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Five weeks ago I started suffering severe pain in my upper left back which spread across and down left arm. Spoke with my doctor twice and was advised to take Tylenol. It now comes and goes. I have tried heat, cold, stretches. Thank you. I am 71 and otherwise in excellent health.
Sheila, thank you for your question. Pain in the neck and arm are something we are “seeing” a lot during our Telehealth session in the COVID lock-down.
We are finding that the most common causes of these pains is being less active or incorrect home computer set-ups. Screens that are too low, keyboards that are too high, coffee tables becoming desks, binging for hours on NetFlix, etc., can all cause irritations to the neck and nerves that go down the arm or the upper back (thoracic spine).
The shoulder could also be considered as a source. During lock-down we are currently finding this less common as most people are not participating in the sports which stress their shoulders.
The best way to know if you will benefit from exercise i.e. stretching and/or seeing a physiotherapist is by determining if the pain is “mechanical”. This is the term we use when the pain is coming from the joints, muscles, ligaments etc. The key feature is that the pain is altered by movement. For example it may be worse when turn your head or sit. It may be better when you walk. Here’s a write-up on how each area in the neck can cause pain https://orthophysio.com/latest-news/physiotherapy/neck/
I noted that you were using ice and heat. Many people struggle with whether to apply heat or cold on an injury. Here is a link on what to consider in making this decision. https://orthophysio.com/latest-news/massage-therapy/hot-or-cold-for-my-injury/
The use of a good pillow can make a big difference if the pain seems to be coming from the neck. Here is a link to an article and video on choosing a pillow. https://orthophysio.com/latest-news/spine-and-scoliosis/neck-pain-its-time-for-a-new-pillow/
Here are a couple of links if you think you need to reconsider your home computer. https://orthophysio.com/latest-news/repetitive-strain-injury/2235/
If the pain is following a “mechanical” pattern, then the best approach is to see a therapist who is experienced in diagnosis and treatment of spines and shoulders. They can help you find the right stretches, exercises and posture corrections.
If you don’t want to wait for the lock-down to open then Telehealth video conferencing can be very helpful. It is particularly beneficial to have someone look at your computer set-up or even how you sit to watch TV or read.
I hope that helps. If you are in Ontario we can help you with a Telehealth appointment. Just let us know by calling us at 416-925-4687 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org