Question: What is the next step for neck pain and arm numbness?

I am a newly commissioned military officer. While conducting morning physical training six months ago, our unit did a motivational pushup exercise where we placed our legs onto a partner’s upper back/neck. Each in turn had someone else's legs (from about the knee) on top of their neck/back.

My partner weighed in excess of 200 pounds while I weigh all of 122 and while attempting to push myself back to the up position, I felt something release in my upper back/neck...Almost like pressure was being relieved and then a very sore neck area incurred. I attempted to do a few more repetitions but couldn't.

After "PT" that morning, I had severe neck and joint pain, and to this day I have numbness/tingling in my right arm and shoulder after waking and the same symptoms immediately following any type of physical activity. This includes sit-ups, pushups, lifting and anything over the head. I am scheduled to have exploratory surgery done on my right shoulder because the doctors think it's in the shoulder but haven't found anything on MRIs…

It has been 6 months since this injury occurred and I can do absolutely no exercises without having this numbing sensation in my right arm that remains there until I crack my neck. I know something isn't right. X-rays and MRIs were negative on the shoulder. What can you recommend for me?

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Doctor's Response: Obtain a cervical MRI to check for a herniated disc

You need a cervical MRI (image of the neck) and an appointment with a spine specialist to discuss the results and potential avenues of treatment. I suspect you have a pinched nerve in your neck, possibly from a herniated disc. The herniated disc material can press on a cervical nerve, causing arm pain, numbness and tingling, and even muscle weakness along the nerve pathway down the arm. The MRI scan should detect the presence of any disc bulge, herniated disc or similar pathology.

In the short term, over-the-counter ibuprofen or Aleve may be helpful. A short course of oral steroids, about one week, may provide pain relief as well until a definitive diagnosis can be made. All treatments for a cervical herniated disc are essentially designed to help resolve the arm pain, and usually the weakness and numbness/tingling will resolve with time.

Most symptoms can be successfully treated with conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and exercise, chiropractic manipulation, bracing, activity modification, and other pain medications or injections.

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In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.