Everyone has had pain in the hand, whether it’s just from a bump or perhaps overuse. However, if hand pain persists or is accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness that interferes with important daily tasks, such as gripping items or typing on a keyboard, then an underlying medical condition might exist.
There are many causes of hand pain and numbness, including wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and systemic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. What many people don't know, however, is that hand pain and numbness often stems from a problem in the neck.
This article reviews all common causes of pain and neurological symptoms in the hand and finger, starting with problems in the neck, or cervical spine.
How a Neck Problem Causes Hand Pain
When a nerve root in the cervical spine becomes compressed or irritated by a problem in the neck, symptoms can appear anywhere from the shoulder all the way down into the arm, hand and fingers.
Pain that travels along this nerve pathway, the radicular nerve, is called a cervical radiculopathy.
What Cervical Radiculopathy Feels Like in the Hand
Eight nerve roots exit the cervical spine on each side and feed nerve pathways down the shoulders, arms, and hands. These nerve roots are labeled according to the vertebral segment, C1 though C8.
Each nerve root has its own responsibilities for motor and sensory functions to parts of the body, so cervical radiculopathy symptoms can be felt in parts of the body depending on which nerve root is affected.
For radicular pain in the hand, the symptoms of pain, tingling, and/or numbness usually stem from a problem in the cervical spine that affects the C6, C7, or C8 nerve root:
- C6 radiculopathy. Symptoms would typically be felt on the thumb side of the hand and wrist, as well as into the thumb.
- C7 radiculopathy. Symptoms would often be felt on the middle of the hand and wrist, as well as into the index and middle fingers.
- C8 radiculopathy. Symptoms may be felt on the pinky side of the hand and wrist, as well as into the ring and pinky fingers.
Radicular pain can range from mild and achy to sharp and shock-like. There could also be numbness, similar to when an arm falls asleep from laying on it the wrong way, or a tingling sensation that feels itchy or prickly like pins and needles. Some people also describe the nerve pain as feeling like the hand has been left in icy water.
In This Article:
- What Causes Hand Pain and Numbness?
- Diagnosing Cervical Radiculopathy vs. Other Causes of Hand Pain
- Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video
Common Causes of Radicular Pain Symptoms in the Hand
Several neck conditions are capable of irritating a cervical nerve root. Common causes include:
- Cervical degenerative disc disease. The discs between the vertebrae lose their cushioning due to aging and general wear and tear over time. The disc degeneration can cause other problems that lead to irritation of a cervical nerve root.
- Cervical herniated disc. This condition occurs when the inner part of the disc leaks through the protective outer layers and irritates the nerve root.
- Cervical osteoarthritis. This condition occurs when a facet joint in the back of the neck loses too much protective cartilage and becomes arthritic. The resulting bone-on-bone grinding in the joint can eventually lead to nerve root impingement via inflammation and/or growth of bone spurs that press on the nerve.
- Cervical foraminal stenosis. If the small hole where the nerve root exits the vertebrae—called the forame —becomes too narrow, then the nerve root can become pinched. A herniated disc or the overgrowth of bone spurs are a couple ways that a foramen might become narrowed.
This is not a complete list of conditions that can cause radicular pain down the arm and into the hand. For instance, one of the less common ways could be a tumor growing in the cervical spine that irritates a nearby nerve root.
When to See a Doctor
If hand pain and/or function don’t improve on their own, then a doctor should be consulted. Many conditions are more easily treated early in the process. If a nerve is compressed, then it’s especially important to get treatment before permanent damage can happen.
See C6-C7 Treatment