Let’s Talk About the Nerves of the Upper Body

Our body consists of an intricate network of muscles and nerves. Unfortunately, nerves are susceptible to injury as are muscles, tendons and ligaments. Nerve tissue is specialized for communication while muscle tissue is meant for contraction. This means, neural tissue is mobile, soft tissue, but less stretchy than muscle tissue.

Do Nerves Get Injured?

Nerve tissue is able to slide and glide when the limbs are moved. However, when neural tissue is stretched too far it undergoes strain. In fact, nerve tissue can be injured due from too much stretching. In addition, nerve tissue can also be injured by:

  • Friction
  • Compression
  • Diseases that cause nervous tissue swelling and/or bleeding

What Happens When Nerves Get injured?

When nerves are injured the issue can undergo changes. For example, injured nerves have decreased vascularity, changes in communication and even changes in structure. The structure of an injured nerve becomes thickened, fibrotic and can even cause shortening of nerve tissue.

Fibrotic changes, soft tissue thickening and shortening can be treated with gliding and stretching the nerves.

Common Locations of Nerve Injuries

It’s important to remember than the location of the symptoms does not always correlate with the location of the nerve injury. Trauma at non-vulnerable spots can cause affect vulnerable sites. For example, an ankle sprain can affect the peroneal nerve further up at the knee.

Some other common sites of nerve injuries in the upper body are:

  • At the shoulder
  • Carpal tunnel at the wrist
  • At the level of the vertebrae

Nerve Stretching

Radial

The radial nerve runs down the back of the arm to the back of the hand. An injury to the radial nerve can cause numbness, pins and needs or pain. Pain or numbness would be in the outer upper arm, back of the forearm or back of the thumb, pointer and middle fingers. The most common cause of radial nerve damage is a fracture of the humerus.

Start in standing to stretch the radial nerve. Begin with your arm straight by your side and make a fist. Then, flex your wrist up towards the ceiling and rotate your arm inwards. Next, bring your arm away from your body as if creating a “T” shape until you feel a mild stretch. Finally, you can tilt your head away from the affected arm to get a more intense stretch if needed.

Ulnar

The ulnar nerve is also known as the “funny bone”. If you happen to hit it you’ll definitely know! Injury to the ulnar nerve can occur from prolonged gaming or long term pressure to the elbow.

The ulnar nerve runs down the inner part of the arm. The nerve provides feeling to the palmar aspect of the pinky finger and half of the ring finger. Accordingly, injury to the ulnar nerve will cause numbness, tingling or pain the pinky and ring fingers.

The ulnar nerve can be stretched in stand or in sitting. Begin by placing your thumb and index finger together to form a circle. Keep the other 3 fingers straight. Then, place the straight fingers, palm up, on the edge of your jaw. Next, bring the finger circle up to your eyes to create a “mask” or “glasses”.

Median

The median nerve runs along the front of the arm and palmar part of the hand. The median nerve provides sensation to the palmar aspect of the thumb, index, middle fingers and half of the ring fingers. An injury of the median nerve can cause pain or numbness in any of these fingers. A common median nerve injury is carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome usually presents as numbness and tingling in the index and middle fingers.

Start in standing to stretch the median nerve. Begin by opening your hand and rotating your thumb away from the body. Then, relax your shoulder away from your ear and bring your fingers toward the back of your forearm. Next, bring your arm away from your body as if creating a “T” shape until you feel a mild stretch. Finally, you can tilt your head away from the affected arm to get a more intense stretch if needed.

Contact Us!

If you think you might have a nerve injury please reach out to us! You can learn more about common injuries in a recent blog or check out our diagnosis blog series! In fact, New Jersey has direct access that can get you in for evaluation without you having to see a doctor. In short, calling us directly can end up saving you both time and money!

Call us to schedule an evaluation at one of BeneFIT’s locations, Bridgewater (908.203.5200) or Chester (908.879.5700)  with one of our highly trained Doctors of Physical Therapy or check us out on Instagram!