What Does Shoulder Pain Radiating Down Arm to Fingers Mean?

What Does Shoulder Pain Radiating Down Arm to Fingers Mean?

Our shoulders are active – you may not realize how much they move until you have pain or discomfort. Sometimes, it’s shoulder pain radiating down your arm to your hand or fingers, which can disrupt your life.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. The rounded ball at the top of the upper arm bone moves within a socket in the shoulder blade. This joint structure provides maximum mobility and allows the arm to move in all directions.

Muscles and tendons, known as the rotator cuff, cover the top of the upper arm bone and attach it to the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff gives strength and stability to the shoulder joint and helps rotate the upper arm.

There are many parts of the shoulder that can cause pain – the soft tissue structures, the bony structures, and even the spine.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Various factors can cause or contribute to shoulder pain, including:

  • Tendon inflammation (tendinitis)
  • Arthritis
  • Joint inflammation (bursitis)
  • Broken bone
  • Pinched nerve
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Inflammation of the brachial plexus
  • Infection

Sudden left shoulder pain may be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 and seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing a sudden onset of pressure or pain in your shoulder, chest, or jaw; or if the pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating.

Why Does Shoulder Pain Radiate Down the Arm?

A plexus is a branching network of nerve fibers that send signals to a specific body part.

  • The cervical plexus is the nerve connection to the head, neck, and shoulder.
  • The brachial plexus is the nerve connection to the chest, shoulders, upper arms, forearms, and hands.

Damaged, inflamed, or pinched nerves in these areas may cause shooting or radiating pain from shoulder to hand. Numbness, weakness, or a tingling or burning sensation may also be experienced.

Cervical radiculopathy

The cervical spine consists of seven bones in the neck region. Cervical radiculopathy, commonly known as a pinched nerve, is caused by compression and inflammation of nerve roots in the cervical spine. This can cause pain that radiates from the neck or shoulder into the arm or hand. Muscle weakness, numbness, or a pins-and-needles sensation may be felt in the hand or arm.

Cervical radiculopathy is often caused by:

Sometimes there is not a clear cause for the onset of symptoms.

Brachial plexus neuritis

Brachial plexus neuritis is caused by inflammation of the brachial plexus. It causes extreme pain in upper arms and shoulders. Tingling, numbness, and weakness is often experienced from the neck and shoulder all the way down into the arm and hand. Symptoms of brachial neuritis include:

  • Severe upper arm or shoulder pain
  • Pain which typically affects one side of the body, though it may occur in both sides
  • Pain that transitions over time to weakness or paralysis of shoulder or arm muscles
  • Diminished sensation in the arm or shoulder

The underlying cause of brachial neuritis is not well established. It may be linked to an abnormal immune response to other diseases or illnesses; however, pain and weakness often occur without any reason.

Other Causes of Radiating Shoulder Pain

Nerve problems are not the only source of radiating pain in the shoulder. Other causes may include:

  • Rotator cuff problems or tendinitis.
  • Shoulder impingement which occurs when the top outer edge of the shoulder blade pinches the rotator cuff beneath.

With these conditions, shooting pain typically radiates from the front of the shoulder to the upper or side of the arm rather than down the arm and into the hand.

It’s important to note that a heart attack may cause arm pain from shoulders to hand or shoulder pain radiating down arm to fingers. It most often occurs in the left arm. Other signs of a heart attack include nausea, wooziness, chest pain, and trouble breathing. Seek emergency medical care if you think you may be having a heart attack.

Don’t suffer from shoulder and arm pain, weakness, or numbness any longer. Schedule an appointment today!


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