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.

Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

Do you have a problem that is not getting better?

Are you looking for a different slant on your pain?

Do you want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.

You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70 percent of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there is a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong. Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what a DC does.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my eBooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful from the life and work of a chiropractor, you will love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the amount without telling me.

More interesting questions from readers