Shoulder Abduction Relief

Shoulder abduction relief is clear sign of a pinched nerve in the neck; the pain in the arm can be very severe; you don't seem to be able to escape the pain, but raising your arm above your head takes some of the pressure off the nerve, relieving it slightly.

Turning your head to the side of pain, and then looking up, Spurling's sign, often makes the tingling and numbness in the arm worse.

So does carrying any heavy package in that hand.

What does the word mean? Simply lifting your arm up at the side of your body. Raising the limb, and placing your hand on your head takes the stretch off the nerves running from your neck to your upper extremity. There are five of them, called the brachial plexus.

If you have a pinched nerve, then this will relieve the pain in your arm.

If placing your hand on your head increases the pain in the arm, then you probably have a shoulder anatomy problem, a rotator cuff for example, or another condition where the nerve and artery can be affected in the inter scalene triangle.

A woman with a case of a shoulder abduction relief sign.

Shoulder Abduction Relief sign

Shoulder abduction relief questions whether placing your hand on your head relieves the pain in your arm?

Scalene muscles

Aggravate vs Relieve helps in the diagnosis of a slipped disc in the neck.
More usually, shoulder abduction will aggravate the pain in your arm and shoulder. Then it's not a pinched nerve. It more likely to be strained rotator cuff, or a fixated acromioclavicular joint or a frozen shoulder brewing.

The pain from a pinched nerve in the neck may be very severe, a deep numb ache in the arm, often worse at night. The only position to gain relief may be to place your hand on your head, or sleep with your arm under your pillow or skull.

This is a serious problem. It's best to get to your chiropractor as soon as possible.

Some grasp of the anatomy of neck pain will help your understanding of this nasty condition. The nerve can also be irritated by a first rib subluxation, a slipped disk, arthritis in the cervical spine, and others like a cervical facet syndrome.

Mostly chiropractic is the treatment of choice, though I confess neck pain can be stubborn, particularly in the presence of  an aching arm and a positive shoulder abduction relief sign. 

This is especially true if there's also wear and tear, and an old fracture or arthritis of the joints of Luschka.

Also known as the paravertebral or uncovertebral joints, they may compromise the inter vertebral foramen through which the nerve root must escape from the spine on it's way to the neck, arm and upper back.

However, these degenerative changes in the neck have usually been present for years. Why do they now suddenly rear their ugly heads? Herein actually lies our salvation. If they were there before the pain started, then they probably aren't the cause of the pain. What's known as an incidental finding. Which explains why many patients with advanced degerative changes in the neck often respond just as well, or badly, to chiropractic treatment, as those without.

Traction may also help as an adjunctive treatment, though the research indicates that on its own traction is not effective.

Again, raising your arm will INCREASE the pain and tingling in your arm. The condition is called a THORACIC OUTLET SYNDROME ...

Pinched nerve

Pinched nerve in the neck can be extremely painful; it's often bad at night. What's needed is the correct diagnosis; just where is it being damaged? The shoulder abduction relief sign helps to differentiate between a nerve root lesion and a thoracic outlet syndrome, for example.

Arm pain

Arm pain and tingling is thus the reason to look out for the shoulder abduction relief sign.

It's not often that raising the arm above the head will relieve the ache in the shoulder, or tingling in the fingers.

What complicates things is that the pinched nerve may then cause the shoulder to become weak; then you may have a secondary injury which muddies the diagnostic waters.

Upper Limb Tension Test

The confirmation of a true pinched nerve is done in part with a test called the Upper Limb Tension Test that you can do at home. However, be warned, the diagnosis and interpretation of tests can only be done by a skilled clinician; your chiropractor. If you have shoulder abduction relief and increased arm pain with Spurgeon's test, then the diagnosis is definitely confirmed.

Having said that, a true slipped disk in the neck sometimes requires surgical intervention. But in our admittedly biased opinion, always try conservative treatment first.


The Cervical Compression Test is another test used to confirm the SAR PINCHED NERVE sign: is this truly a pinched nerve? Watch this spectacular way of performing this test. Don't miss it ... and watch to the end. You won't be sorry, I promise! CERVICAL COMPRESSION TEST ...


holding a telephone between the shoulder and ear risks a pinched nerve in the neck

Upper back pain

Pain between the shoulders and in the upper back can be very difficult to diagnose. It could be a local problem, say a subluxation of the fourth thoracic vertebra. Or, it could be a rib head subluxation. Does deep breathing cause pain?

On the scary side it could be a metastasis from lung or breast cancer; fortunately both rare, but if you've had a mastectomy or are a smoker, then it does need to be kept in mind.

Then it could simply be a muscular problem, perhaps from sitting too long at a computer that is not properly set up. Is your mouse arm supported? Do your fingers point up or down? How are your eyes in relation to the screen?

Are you using a laptop when you could be using a pc, or at least a portable with a full screen and separate keyboard and mouse?

But then it could also be a referred pain from the neck. If the C5 nerve root is affected then deep upper back ache is often the result, mediated via the dorsal scapular n, with tingling and discomfort on the outer upper arm. And you may well get shoulder abduction relief.

The long and the short of it is that a careful and thorough history and chiropractic examination is in order when dealing with lower neck, upper back and arm pain.

They can be excruciatingly painful and frustratingly there is often no known cause. You wake up one morning and everything is rosy. You stretch lazily, and bingo, you have severe neck pain. Within a few days or weeks the ache begins to radiate to the upper back, sometimes the chest depending on the nerve root involved, and arm. And, you get relief by placing your hand on your head.

Links from the top of the page

Did you find this page useful? Then perhaps forward it to a suffering friend. Better still, Tweet or Face Book it.

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Then forward it to a friend. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.