Tingly arms: what causes it and how massage fixes it

Brachial plexus and tingly armTingling down arms: ‘thoracic outlet syndrome’

Tingling in the arm and/or hand is one of the really common issues that people present with in my massage clinic. Often the tingly or numb feeling is particularly bad in bed at night. It can be brought on by using a mouse at a desk, or in sports that involve repetitive shoulder movement, such as swimming or weightlifting. In some people it continues to get worse until the tingling is there all of the time. The good news is that it almost always has a clear cause, and a simple treatment. In fact, in most cases one sports massage is all it takes to get rid of a tingly arm 🙂

ET: vertebral lesion at C7?

Nerve compression

All of the sensation that we feel in our arms is provided by nerves that run from the arm through the shoulder area, through the small gaps in between the vertebrae, into the spinal cord, and up to the brain. This communication system can get muddled if the nerves get squashed, either against bones or muscles, leaving us with a tingly-arm sensation. Depending on the nerves that have  been affected, this sensation could be felt all the way down the arm and hand, or it could just be in a small part of it – at the tip of a finger, for example.

Bony alignments

A common place that the nerves can get trapped is in the gaps between the vertebrae as they enter the spine of the neck or upper back. It’s common for one vertebra to get slightly stuck in a position that narrows the space needed by the nerve. Advanced remedial massage techniques can be used to assess for this and to gently realign the vertebrae.

brachial plexus and numb armAs the nerves pass from the base of the neck to the arm, they pass over the first rib and under the collar bone before continuing on to the arm. In our distant evolutionary past, as four-legged animals, there would have been plenty of space for the nerves to pass under the collar bone. Standing on two legs, however, the gap left under our collar bone is much smaller than it was originally designed to be, leaving us predisposed to nerve-squashing.

It’s not unusual for our first rib to get stuck in a slightly elevated position, which restricts the space even more. Fortunately, advanced remedial massage techniques can be used to assess for this misalignment and correct it using gentle and painless techniques.


Tight muscles and massage

Brachial plexus and muscles for sports massageMuscles, too, can constrict the nerves. In particular pectoralis minor (which lies underneath the main pec muscle of your chest) and the scalene muscles (which run from your neck down to your top ribs). These muscles can easily become tight or inflamed, and constrict the nerves. Advanced remedial massage techniques (or sports massage) are very successful in relieving the tension in these muscles and allowing the nerves the space that they need.

So although tingly arms can be really irritating and unsettling, they are rarely anything to worry about. The mostly likely explanation is that the nerves have become a little squeezed. Try improving your posture first – head up, shoulders back. If this doesn’t change things quickly enough, just treat yourself to a massage for an instant fix.

2 Comments on Tingly arms: what causes it and how massage fixes it

  1. Thanks Maureen. I couldn’t agree more, and I often recommend pilates to people for this 🙂

  2. Great article Matthew. It’s worth pointing out for your readers too that movement re-education following the release from the massage can often be useful to help prevent recurrence of the tingly arms.

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