If I can’t lift my arms above my shoulders without my hands going numb, is it a heart problem?

by | Mar 22, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Do your hands go numb when you raise your arms over your head for more than 30 seconds? Has someone suggested it might be a sign of a heart problem? Are you wondering if that could be the case?

If you can’t lift your arms above your shoulders or head without your hands going numb, it signals issues with your circulation, and could very well have to do with your heart. In fact, one of the warning signs of a heart attack can be tingling or loss of feeling in the arms when raised above the head. It’s usually the case when the loss of feeling in your limbs is followed by chest pain, also referred to as angina.

Regardless of the cause of your current condition, it’s important that you seek advice from a licensed and experienced medical professional. It’s always a good idea to speak with a health care professional if something is bothering you or giving you cause for concern. You may be able to start early treatment or get preventive care and improve your chances at a better quality of life. Learn more about some of the potential reasons why you can’t lift your arms above your shoulders without your hands going numb. Keep reading the information provided in the sections below.

What are some common types of heart problems?

  • Heart failure.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Congenital heart defect.
  • Heart disease.
  • Arrhythmia.
  • Angina.
  • Pericardial disease.
  • Cardiomyopathy.
  • Cardiac arrest.

What are some symptoms that may indicate the presence of a heart problem?

  • Chest pain.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Neck or jaw pain.
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Stomach pain.

If I can’t lift my arms above my shoulders without my arms going numb, does this signal a heart problem?

If you can’t lift your arms above your shoulders without your arms going numb, you may very well be dealing with a heart problem. Here are two of the several possible conditions you may be dealing with in the bulleted list below:


  • Ischemia — When you’re using your arms for work, especially overhead work, oxygen is necessary to keep the blood pumping through them. Interestingly enough, your arms need more oxygen during use than your legs do. If you can’t do work with your arms over your head without feeling numbness, tingling or shortness of breath, you may be dealing with a condition called ischemia. Ischemia is a condition that involves decreased blood flow. It’s usually caused by a blood clot or the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels. Ischemia can eventually lead to several heart issues. Some of these may include chest pain, cardiac arrest, a heart attack, irregular heartbeat and even heart failure. Ischemia can affect not only the heart, but also the brain, the legs and the intestines.
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome — Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a condition that involves several disorders occurring simultaneously when blood vessels or nerves become compressed. This compression can cause pain and numbness and may be the cause of your numbness when you lift your hands above your head.

What else should I know about thoracic outlet syndrome? Is it why I can’t lift my arms above my shoulders without numbness?

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that can cause a variety of potentially life-threatening conditions if left untreated. It’s usually triggered by nerves and blood vessels that become compressed in or around the thoracic outlet. These blood vessels and nerves are located in the neck and run down the arm and hand, but the thoracic outlet is located around the rib cage. Nerves and blood vessels can be found in the thoracic outlet, and they run through the collarbone, underarm, and then the arm and hand. This condition may be the reason behind why you can’t lift your arms above your head and shoulders without experiencing numbness.

What factors can lead to thoracic outlet syndrome? If it’s the cause of my numbness, how did it start?

TOS can be caused by a number of different factors. Some of the potential causes are listed below:

  • Collarbone fracture — There have been instances where patients who break their collarbone experience TOS due to the bone placing pressure on a nerve or blood vessel.
  • Extra rib — Interestingly enough, some people are born with an extra rib. In these cases, a person may develop TOS because of pressure placed on the nerves or blood vessels from the rib.
  • Scar tissue — Scar tissue buildup has also been known to cause TOS. When scar tissue builds up in the muscle or around the nerves and blood vessels coming from the thoracic outlet, it can cause compression associated with TOS.
  • Heavy lifting — Lifting heavy objects can cause the muscles around the arms, shoulders and thoracic outlet to become larger, which may also place pressure on nearby nerves and blood vessels.
  • Auto collisions — Injuries caused by a traumatic event, such as an auto collision, can cause TOS as well. Muscle strains or tears from the seat belt of a vehicle can eventually place pressure on the blood vessels and nerves coming from the thoracic outlets and ending in the hand.
  • Poor posture — If you frequently find yourself in a slouched or hunched-over position, this posture may be placing stress on your thoracic outlet system. Individuals who carry more weight on their bodies are more likely to hunch over and could eventually develop TOS. Interestingly, though, people who have TOS will often start to hunch over even more, because of their symptoms, creating an uncomfortable cycle.

What kinds of treatment are available to people who can’t lift their arms above their shoulders without their hands going numb?

  • Go to physical therapy.
  • Minimize excessive stress.
  • Manage your weight.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Get in regular movement.
  • Become educated on your health.
  • Consider surgery.

Why should I choose physical therapy to treat my condition?

  • To receive an early diagnosis and start treatment soon — One of the benefits of going to physical therapy is that you’ll be surrounded by highly educated and experienced medical professionals. If you go to a physical therapist with some of the symptoms you’re experiencing, chances are they’ll be able to diagnose your condition and help you get the treatment you need sooner, rather than later. In most cases and especially for those who may be suffering from heart conditions, preventive care and early treatment are key.
  • To encourage regular physical activity — Whether you can’t lift your arms above your head without feeling numbness because of a heart problem or a condition like TOS, regular physical activity is likely to benefit you. Physical activity and daily movement can help a variety of conditions and may help you manage your symptoms better. Going to PT can be a great way to schedule regular physical activity in an environment where you’ll be held accountable while also being guided through gentle exercises.
  • To receive treatment with relatively no negative side effects — One of the many benefits of physical therapy is that it is a natural, holistic and effective treatment option that doesn’t involve medication or its related side effects.

Forever Fit Physical Therapy & Wellness is ready to help you when you can’t lift your arms above your head without experiencing numbness

Our team at Forever Fit Physical Therapy & Wellness can offer you a physical therapy experience that is catered to you. We value our patients so much that we strive to provide each one with a personalized treatment plan that adapts to their individual lifestyles, habits and future goals. If you’re wondering why you can’t lift your arms above your head without experiencing numbness, we can guide you through the treatment plan you need to effectively manage your condition. We will work with you toward the improved state of being you’re hoping for when you visit any one of our several locations. We can help you get through your numbness while improving your circulation and mobility so that you can return to your daily activities.

During each of your physical therapy sessions, our physical therapists will navigate you through your treatment with compassion and care. We’re dedicated to ensuring that you are doing each one of your exercises and movements with precision for the best possible results. We can provide you with the tools you’ll need to manage your condition on your own, long after your sessions are over. Our goal is to set you up for success so that you can lift your arms above your head without your hands going numb.

Are you ready to take the first step toward being able to lift your arms above your head without experiencing numbness? Do you want to learn more about your unique condition and how we might go about treating it?

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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