Link Between Pain in the Upper Back & Numbness in the Arms in Los Angeles, CA

It’s not pleasant to start your day with upper back pain that extends to your arms or includes numbness and similar symptoms. But this is what you may experience if there’s something going on within your upper back area that you’re not aware of just yet. The discomfort could also get worse throughout your day, or it may be associated with certain movements. Today, we’re going to talk about why this could be happening and what you can do about it.

A Herniated Disc in the Neck

If you have a cervical herniated disc, it means inflammatory proteins from the inside of the disc have leaked to the outside. In turn, nearby nerve roots, soft tissues, and joints may become inflamed because of these proteins. If nerves are affected, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Tingling and/or numbness in the shoulders and arms
  • Discomfort extending from the arm to the hand
  • Shoulder blade pain coupled with arm numbness if the affected disc is in the lower neck area

Abnormal Narrowing of Spinal Bone Spaces

Arm numbness and upper back pain are sometimes linked to the narrowing of the spaces around the openings between spinal bones in the neck. This is called foraminal stenosis. It’s a type of spinal stenosis that could irritate nearby nerves enough to cause numbness, tingling sensations, and similar discomfort that extends to the shoulders, arms, and hands. It’s often caused by spine-related wear, although the space between spinal bones could also be reduced by the presence of bone spurs (osteophytes). To treat this issue, your spine specialist may recommend a procedure to enlarge the nerve passageways called a foraminotomy. Santa Monica patients who have this type of surgery are often able to return home the same day. 


A stinger is a type of temporary injury—the resulting discomfort can last anywhere from a few minutes to a day or two—that could produce upper back pain and arm numbness after a hard fall or impact, such as what might happen when playing sports. If the brunt of the impact affects a group of nerves that go from your shoulder into your arm (brachial plexus), you could experience burning sensations in your neck and shoulder area that extend down one arm.

Other Possible Reasons for Upper Back Pain and Arm Numbness

There are a few other less common sources of upper back pain and arm numbness worth mentioning. One of these is thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), a condition that develops when blood vessels or nerves are compressed in the area between the collarbone and the top of the ribs (thoracic outlet). TOS is a rare condition that can result in pain, numbness and/or tingling sensations, and muscle weakness that runs from the neck and shoulder to the arm and hand. You might be more susceptible to this condition if you normally perform work requiring overhead arm movements. 

Upper back/neck pain and arm numbness may also be related to:

  • Parsonage-Turner syndrome – Also called brachial neuritis, this condition can develop if the shoulder/arm nerves (brachial plexus) are inflamed.
  • Stress – Upper back pain and arm numbness are sometimes associated with stress-related or psychological issues (such as PTSD) that can create physical symptoms that mimic some of the conditions already mentioned.

Treatment for arm numbness and upper back pain will depend on what the source is, which can be determined with a thorough examination and appropriate tests. The treatments recommended by your Santa Monica spine surgeon may include medication, therapeutic exercises, or minimally invasive surgery.

Get in touch with The Spine Institute today to find out how we can help you find relief for your upper back pain and arm numbness. We specialize in a wide variety of spinal procedures, from decompression surgery to spinal fusion alternatives. Patients can rely on Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of qualified surgeons to diagnose the source of their pain and help them take the first steps toward living a pain-free life. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.