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What is a Radiating Pain?

The term “Radiating Pain” refers to pain that travels from one body part to another. This pain starts in one place and then spreads into a broader area of the body 1. For example, people with a herniated disc may develop pain in the lower back. This pain will travel with the sciatic nerve that runs down the leg. Radiating pain occurs due to several reasons, and some of these may indicate a serious underlying condition.

After the damage of a certain body part, surrounding nerves signal the spinal cord. This signal recognizes the pain in the damaged area. However, due to the connection of all the nerves in the body, the initial pain can spread or radiate all over the body. The initial pain moves along with the nerve pathway and causes discomfort to the other areas of the body. This results in radiating pain 2.

Radiating pain in the shoulder, arm, and hands indicates the source of damage in the neck or cervical spine. The responsible nerve that supplies sensation in the arm travels from the neck down to the arm. After exiting from the spine, these nerves supply both right and left sides, respectively. The structure of the spine can change because of poor posture, muscle weakness, poor alignment, or injury of the spine. This causes narrowing of the canals from where the nerve roots exit and spreads into the neck, arm, and shoulder 3.

Study shows a tiny difference between radiating pain and referred pain. The radiating pain literally moves through the body by traveling the pain from one part to another. While the referred pain refers to a pain that locates away from or next to the organ involved. Possible causes of radiating pain in the arm may include cervical herniated disc, bone spurs, heart attack, etc.

Symptoms of radiating pain in the arm comprise a mild, occasional tingling in the arm, shoulder, or hand. A herniated disc may develop numbness, severe pain, tingling in your hand or fingers, muscle weakness, difficult hand moving, etc. Patients with bone spur may feel radiating arm pain, tingling, and weakness. Possible signs of a heart attack may include breathing shortness, cold sweat, chest pain, nausea, etc. White left untreated, radiating pain may cause further long-term damage to the body.

How do Neurosurgeons Diagnose Radiating Pain?

Patients with the symptoms of radiating pain in the arm need to see an Neurosurgeon to get immediate help. The initial diagnosis of radiating pain includes a clinical presentation and pain patterns of patients. Orthopedics may ask some questions about the severity of pain, duration of pain, frequency of your pain, etc. These answers will help orthopedics to diagnose the case accurately. Orthopedics may further confirm by X-ray to look for signs of a herniated disc or bone spurs or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) for a better look at the muscles and other soft tissues 4. Other tests include sensory testing, manual muscle testing, etc.

How do Neurosurgeons Treat Radiating Pain in Arm?

Treatment of radiating pain depends on the severity and duration of the pain. For patients developing radiating pain after an injury, advised to try ice or heat therapy on the injured area to relieve initial pain. Ice helps to reduce inflammation and heat improves the blood supply. Most patients with radiating pain in the arm respond well to non-surgical, conservative treatment. Other treatment protocol includes 5:

  1. Medications: This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxants to relieve symptoms of muscle pain. Study shows that muscle relaxants help to relieve pain.
  2. Physical therapy: This therapy refers to an important part of recovery from radiating shoulder, arm, and hand pain. This includes stretching and light exercises that reduce pressure on the nerves and relieve minor pains.

About 80% of the patient’s symptoms diminish after non-operative treatment. Most of the time, only rest can relieve the patient from this condition. Surgical intervention may perform with persistent pain by an expert orthopedic surgeon.


  1. Daffner, S. D. et al. Impact of Neck and Arm Pain on Overall Health Status. 28, 2030–2035 (2003).
  2. Landén Ludvigsson, M., Peterson, G. & Peolsson, A. Neck-specific exercise may reduce radiating pain and signs of neurological deficits in chronic whiplash – Analyses of a randomized clinical trial. Sci. Rep. 8, 1–11 (2018).
  3. Park, S. Y., Ahn, S. K., Kim, H. Y., Shin, J. Y. & Min, S. Referred pain in right arm from abdominal wall pseudoaneurysm. Korean J. Pain 26, 191–194 (2013).
  4. Slaven, E. J. & Mathers, J. Differential diagnosis of shoulder and cervical pain: A case report. J. Man. Manip. Ther.18, 191–196 (2010).
  5. Mahmoudzadeh, A., Rezaeian, Z. S., Karimi, A. & Dommerholt, J. The effect of dry needling on the radiating pain in subjects with discogenic low‑back pain: A randomized control trial. J. Res. Med. Sci. 21, (2016).



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