What could be causing regular neck/shoulder/bicep pain and spasms?
October 31, 2012 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I started having regular pain through my right shoulder down to my right elbow a few months ago. Today, I keep having muscle spasms in the same bicep. Too broke for a doc visit...anyone else experienced this?

So, a few months ago, I started getting regular pain on the right side of my neck, through my right shoulder, down my right bicep to the right elbow. I can't think of any specific event or injury that may have caused this. It's not the entire area every time...usually just one on any given day and moves to another the next day. I've started to think it's some sort of nerve damage because if I turn my head to the left, I get the same tingly pain that comes from hitting your funny bone. However, it's all up and down my bicep. I've been just dealing with it until I have the extra cash for a doctor's visit. Today (and this is new), my right bicep keeps going through periods of spasms. They aren't painful but rather annoying. As this is progressing, I'm started to get more and more worried as other symptoms crop up.

Hoping that someone else around here went through the same thing and may have either some suggestions or ideas on what may be the problem.
posted by guyarcher to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you a heavy computer user? Arm/neck/shoulder pain is often connected to computer usage. In the past when I have had similar symptoms (not identical. And I ain't no expert, just a yob in the nets) ice on the shoulder and neck and ibuprofen helped a lot.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:27 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did experience something like this, last winter, not from an injury but just from being silly and riding a bike all over town one night carrying a messenger bag stuffed with beer and wine. Even if you don't remember injuring it, did you put a lot of stress on it before this began?

In my case I didn't go to a doctor, but I did a lot of stretching and yoga, and it started to get better within a week . If this has been going on for months you really should pony up the cash for a doctor and an x-ray.
posted by mannequito at 1:30 PM on October 31, 2012

My thought was computer usage, too, because I'm sitting funny at the moment and could feel the tension on the right side of my neck, through my shoulder, etc.. How's your posture and ergonomics?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:32 PM on October 31, 2012

I get this. My trapezius muscle spasms, sends INCREDIBLE pain through my neck, arm, and shoulder that is intermittent for months, and the only thing that relieves it is muscle relaxants (relief for a couple hours) and trigger point massage (relief for MONTHS).

Causes for me: sleeping wrong, sitting in bad positions, and stress (my shoulders tend to creep up toward my ears when I'm anxious).

I am not a doctor, physical therapist, or massage therapist. However, this was diagnosed by my doctor and I would recommend you find the cash to go yourself.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:37 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hrm. I am a heavy computer user. I work in IT so I'm on a PC all day at work. On top of that, I spend quite a bit on a PC at home after work. I guess it's a possibility but never occurred to me since I've been a 12 hour a day PC user for 12 years or so now.
posted by guyarcher at 1:43 PM on October 31, 2012

See your doctor. It could be a sign of a pinched or ruptured disk in your neck. I had the sensations you're describing about 6 years ago and ended up having surgery, but sometimes if it's caught early enough, it can be treated with cortisone shots and/or physical therapy.

One quick and easy test to see if it's serious (have a friend help you with this):

1) Hold your arms out straight and level in front of you. Have a friend push down first on the side that doesn't have pain, then on the side that does, while you try to resist.

2) In the same position, have your friend try to push up first on the side that doesn't have pain, then on the side that does, while you try to resist.

3) Hold your arms up in front of your face, bent at the elbows, palms toward you (like someone told you to put up your dukes!) Have a friend stand in front of you and pull out first on the side that doesn't have pain, then on the side that does, while you try to resist.

4) In the same position, have your friend try to push your arm in - first the side that doesn't hurt, then the side that does.

What you're looking for is any sign that the painful arm is weaker than the non-painful arm. So if it's a lot easier for your friend to "win" on the painful arm, you could have a disk problem compromising the nerves in your neck that control your arm muscles.

If the pain is severe, and you can't get to a doctor right away, anti-inflammatories may help. But if you do find there is weakness on the painful side, a doctor (maybe a free clinic?) is your best bet.
posted by kythuen at 1:44 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has anything changed in your desk area recently? Your car? Have you changed your activity level?

Check and make sure you aren't resting your elbow somewhere in a way that puts pressure on the nerve that runs through your elbow.

Try using a racquet ball (available in a 3-pack for sub-$5 at stores near you) between your back and a wall, moving it in small circles. You'll feel where it feels the best. Try near your armpits from behind.

Also, there are body weight (no equipment required) exercises that'll increase your core strength, and check out this guide to fixing computer guy posture.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:46 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll try out the exercises along with upping the priority on getting to the doc. I'm kind of stubborn about seeing a doctor for pain unless I can barely move but after this much time, probably warranted.
posted by guyarcher at 1:49 PM on October 31, 2012

I've had similar issues over the past five years and they come and go. The pain can seem unbearable at times, but waxes and wanes. As someone mentioned above, muscle relaxers seemed to help, along with hot/cold treatment.

My dad is a chiropractor and he recommended the hot/cold specifically.
posted by tacodave at 2:05 PM on October 31, 2012

Sounds like trigger points (especially common with bad posture/computer use). Try to find a massage therapist who specializes in trigger point massage.

Besides that, use ice, especially on the neck, and try some direct compression on the areas of your neck that hurt.
posted by hopeless romantique at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try moving your computer mouse to the other hand. Your off hand will quickly learn to do everything your dominant hand does. Then get yourself a mouse pad with a built in wrist rest. That will make a big difference in the stress on your arm/shoulder/neck.
posted by Cranberry at 3:09 PM on October 31, 2012

When I had this kind of pain, I ended up having surgery to remove a bulging disk in my neck. The doctor thought it could have been due to poor posture in general, combined with heavy computer use, along with my particular anatomy.

I had to retrain my body to sit and stand properly. Do you sit with your chin jutting forward, with your shoulders rounded? STOP DOING THAT. Download one of the many timer apps that are out there, and use it to periodically remind yourself to check your posture. Think of a string pulling your head (not your chin) up to the ceiling. Lifting your head straight up out of your shoulders also causes your shoulders to roll backwards, which then brings your chest forward. That's the right position for your head and shoulders to be in.

Also consider your posture while driving. That's another area where we tend to slump into Jabba-like blobs. Play around with the position of your seat, especially if you drive a stick. Remind yourself to sit up straight with your shoulders back.

If you work out, stop doing chest stuff for a while, and concentrate on your upper back muscles. Do more reverse flys and stuff for your rear delts. You might have really strong chest muscles and front delts that are pulling your shoulders forward.

IME, massages didn't work, because the pain was from a pinched nerve, not muscle soreness or tightness. YMMV, of course. IANYNeurosurgeon.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:52 PM on October 31, 2012

I sleep on my side/stomach with my arm stretched out under the pillow and my head on top. If I sleep particularly soundly, I will get a pain a lot like you describe. I've actually given myself Tennis Elbow (tendonitis) doing this. So, check how you sleep, too.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:20 PM on October 31, 2012

I have similar issues for the past 5 years. Recently, I began losing strength in a material way. Previously I tried rehab, epidural shots, posture adjustment, and medication muscle relaxers. I have had several MRI s over the years with them all indicating disc pushing on nerves. I am having C4-C5 and C5-C6 fusions on Monday assuming power back on around here.

Pain is usually manageable. Loss of feeling and loss of strength can be permanent.

What kythuen said.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:24 PM on October 31, 2012

What kythuen said, and also what SuperSquirrel said - my friend in this question had similar symptoms, which eventually was diagnosed as herniation in her cervical spine. Her doctor said if she had come in many months before, when she first started experiencing the pain, she may have been able to avoid or at least postpone surgery. I'd go to the doctor if I were you, or at least do the tests kythuen suggests first.

That said, I have occasional shoulder and arm pain, and it is totally due to working on a computer for years and years. Switching to a standing desk forced me to use correct posture and take strain off my shoulders and neck. If I have to use a regular seated desk while visiting a customer, I notice issues in my shoulder within a couple of hours. Consciously stretching and checking my posture often helps.
posted by bedhead at 10:26 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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