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Physical Therapists Take a Stab at Nerve Pain

Posted on: 11/30/1999
Have you ever heard of neurogenic cervicobrachial pain? You may not recognize it in medical terms, but in plain English you know it as neck and arm nerve pain. If you have it, all you really want to know is how to get rid of it.

Physical therapists can help by applying controlled movements to your neck joints. These motions are thought to free up the painful nearby nerves. Studies to measure the effect of this type of movement on nerve injuries are rare. Therapists at the University of Queensland in Australia have made an attempt.

During any movement of the neck and arm, the nerves slide and glide through the soft tissues around them. When the nerve gets stuck or bound down, it's called neural entrapment. The result can be nerve pain and loss of motion.

The goal of this study was to measure the immediate effects of two different treatment methods for patients with neck and arm pain from nerve entrapment. One method included controlled movement of the neck joints called mobilization. The other method used ultrasound, a form of deep heat applied to the sore tissues.

After each treatment was applied, elbow motion (extension) and pain levels were measured. The authors report major differences in results between these two treatments. No improvement occurred with the ultrasound. However, increased elbow extension and decreased neck and arm pain were noted after the mobilization treatments.

The authors suggest that even small amounts of pressure on the nerve can cause painful symptoms. Loss of motion in the neck may be to blame for these symptoms. Restoring the motion of the joints within the neck is thought to free up the nerve, allowing for normal nerve function.

By improving neck movement with mobilization, pain is reduced and arm motion is increased. The authors conclude that mobilization is an effective treatment for patients with neck and arm pain, even when neck motion is limited at one or more levels.

Michel W. Coppieters, PT, PhD, et al. The Immediate Effects of a Cervical Lateral Glide Treatment Technique in Patients with Neurogenic Cervicobrachial Pain. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. July 2003. Vol. 33. No. 7. PP. 369-378.

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