Numbness or tingling in any part of the body is always alarming. For the lucky ones, the only time we experience numbness is when we are sitting wrong and our foot falls asleep. For others, numbness travels down the shoulder into their arms and even into their fingertips. What’s even more interesting is when people have numbness in only certain fingers or certain parts of the arm or shoulder. There is actually science to this.
Nerve signals are sent from the brain, down the spinal cord, and through nerve roots. Nerve roots leave the spine between two corresponding vertebrae which then communicate with the nerves into the shoulders, arms, and fingers. Nerves control not only pain, numbness, tingling, and movement, but also things like hot and cold too. Where someone is experiencing pain, numbness, or discomfort in the shoulders, arms, or fingers directly relates to which nerve roots are irritated or compressed. For example, when looking at the fingers, the C6 nerve root innervates the thumb, C7 controls the index finger and middle finger, and C8 controls the ring finger and pinky. For those of you who know about the number of vertebrae in the neck, you may be scratching your head and saying, “but there is no C8 vertebrae so how does that make sense?” The C8 nerve root actually goes through the space between the C7 and T1 vertebrae.
What are some options for people who are experiencing numbness or tingling going into their shoulders or fingers? One option is to consult with a chiropractor. Chiropractors are trained to look at x-rays to see if any of the vertebrae are shifted forward or if there is a loss of curvature in the neck. What these structural shifts can do is irritate the nerve roots which are working to communicate with the shoulders, arms, and fingers. Restoring the structure of the neck not only takes strain off the nerves- the discs are also healthier, and the muscles that attach to the spine are more relaxed. Often when there is a loss of curve in the neck, the shoulder muscles, scalene muscles, and even chest muscles can become very tight. Professionals trained to work with these muscles include physical therapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors. Working with stretching and strengthening the muscles along with gentle corrective chiropractic adjustments to move any vertebrae putting irritation on nerves can work to change the structure of the nervous system so that the symptoms can be resolved. Oftentimes, depending on how long the numbness has been present or if there are physical degenerative changes with the neck (for example, bone spurs or disc degeneration)-- this can impact how quickly the numbness and tingling can be resolved. Physical changes and degeneration don’t happen overnight-- so it can take some time to find relief. If you know someone experiencing discomfort, pain, or numbness, encourage them to consider if chiropractic care could be a natural solution for them.
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