Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

Sometimes when I bend my head just right, I get a shock straight down my arms. What does this mean?

Answer:

You may be experiencing something called Lhermitte's sign. Flexion of the head and neck causes an electric shock-like sensation. Some people describe this as shooting pains down the arms.

The pain can shoot down the spine into the arms and/or legs anytime the head and neck are bent forward or extended backward. Lhermitte's is an indication that pressure is being placed on the spinal cord itself.

There may be other signs and symptoms noticeable only to a physician examining you. For example there may be weakness in the hands or feet, decreased muscle tone in the muscles, and changes in deep tendon reflexes (DTRs).

You may be familiar with DTRs such as the knee or ankle jerk. The doctor taps your tendon below the knee and your leg automatically straightens. Or a tap is applied to the Achilles' tendon above the ankle and the foot points downward.

Further tests are needed to find out why there's pressure on the spinal cord. It could be a condition called spinal stenosis. This is a narrowing of the spinal canal where the spinal cord is located. Degenerative changes from aging are the most likely cause of spinal stenosis.

It's best to report this symptom to your doctor and find out what's causing it. Early intervention may help reduce long-term problems.

Kornelis A. Poelstra, MD, PhD, et al. Managing Neck Pain: Evaluation and Treatment Recommendations. In The Journal of Musculoskeletal Medicine. November 2006. Vol. 23. No. 11. Pp. 809-814.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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