Each week I see people coming into my office with pain starting at the top of the shoulder and then runs down their arm. Most of the pain seems to be in the deltoid area or the top of the arm. Many clients have gone to doctors, physical therapists, and tried gadgets to help. The problem is they are focused on the site of the pain. Most muscle pain never originates at the site of pain. It is usually on the opposite end or side from the site of pain.
Sometimes the shoulder pain shooting down your arm begins with no obvious cause or starting point. Most times we just wake up and feel the pain on the top of the shoulder, lifting your arm is too painful, and/or you are getting numbness down your arm. The pain seems to be at the top of the arm but it can hurt all the way down. In other words, shoulder pain shooting down your arm.
Think about what you did recently like pushing or pulling anything, lifting things like boxes, driving in intense traffic, working on the computer, or maybe you just increased your workout regimen. All of these activities can cause this type of pain to occur. Before you begin thinking about horrible things that it could be, let’s delve into simpler explanations of what it could be.
What is causing this shoulder pain shooting down your arm?
Most times the cause of the pain is either in the chest area, the back area around the shoulder blades, or both. If you are pushing, tensing at the steering wheel, or lifting things, the outside chest muscle will tighten causing the shoulders to round in. If you are pushing things or reaching overhead, you are using your upper back muscles and rotating the shoulder blades.
This is important because of the mechanics of the arm and how we lift it. Most people think that the lifting of the arm is mainly the traps or the muscles on top of the shoulder, so when the pain shoots down the arm, this is where they go to work on it. The reality is, for you to lift your arm, the shoulder has to able to rotate as the upper arm goes into the socket on the shoulder blade. For this to happen, the chest muscles have to extend, muscles around and on the shoulder have to be soft to allow the rotation, then the muscles on top of the shoulder can do their job. If any of these areas are tight, then you may get a pain shooting down your arm. ON top of that, the muscles on top of the shoulders attach at the base of the skull, so when they are tight, the risk of a pinched nerve or bulging disc in the neck is much higher.
How do we solve the pain?
I always prefer starting with the movement of the arm. If it is too painful to lift your arm, walk up the wall with your hand for support. As you lift your arm, feel if the chest is hard and tight, especially right by the armpit on the outside edge of the chest. If this is hard and sore, it will be difficult to raise your arm past your head or if raising from the side, to touch your ear without moving your head. If this is true, begin by massaging the chest muscles by pressing gently to see if it is sore. If it is, press the sore spot, breathe out and hold until the pain goes away. If not, then move to the next spot and repeat all over the chest.
Next, place a tennis ball in a sock and throw the sock over your shoulder while holding on to the other end of the sock, then lean against a wall. This places the ball between the wall and your shoulder. Gently press against the ball looking for sore spots. When you find one, maintain the pressure, the temptation is press harder, but don’t, then breathe out and let it soften. Once the pain goes away, move to the next spot and repeat. Make sure you do both sides.
Once you have completed both of the massages above, now you may feel your arm can move better, but you are not done yet. Do the to stretches below to free the arm up. I would suggest ding these until the pain goes away. It shouldn’t take more than 2-3 days to stop the pain. Once the pain stops, I would suggest doing these stretches and massages 3-4 times a week depending on the activities you are doing.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you are doing the equivalant of strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you sue the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder, but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. I remember doing this at the Tampa Airport when a woman approached me to ask what i was doing. When I told her she ask if she could try. Then 2 other people came over and did it too. We had a good time, but I had to hide to soften my own body without interruption.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.