Many people with neck and arm pain also have tender spots in the muscles of the neck and upper arms. Is the pain coming from the muscles? Or is it referred from the neck? This is the question of a Mayo Clinic study.
A special device called an algometer was used to measure sensitivity of 14 pairs of muscular points. Ten normal, healthy adults and sixteen adults with cervical radiculopathy were tested. Cervical radiculopathy is a problem that occurs when a nerve in the neck is irritated as it leaves the spinal canal. All patients had symptoms of arm pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness on one side only.
Results showed more tender spots on the side of the radiculopathy. Normal subjects had no difference in tenderness from side to side. The authors suggest that the increased number of tender spots that occur with radiculopathy isn’t a chance finding. One-sided tender spots are probably coming from the irritated nerve, not from damage to the muscle.
The authors conclude that physical therapists and doctors who treat muscular pain must watch out for muscle pain on one side. They should look for reflex and strength changes along with tender spots. When found together at the same time, these symptoms suggest that cervical radiculopathy is the main problem. Treatment of the neck problem may work better than treating the tender spots.