What causes neck and shoulder pain? Is it a serious situation? Do you need to see a doctor? What to do to pass? What’s good? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.
Neck and shoulder pain: General information
The neck and shoulders are complex and interconnected areas, and medical problems that affect one often affect the other. Pain and dysfunction from injuries or conditions affecting joints, muscles, and other structures can easily radiate from the neck to the shoulder(s) and from the shoulder(s) to the neck. These body parts share bones, muscles, connective tissues, and nerves, making it easier for pain to spread to the area.
Related article: What causes neck pain?
Neck and shoulder pain: Causes
With a combination of neck and shoulder pain, a wide variety of things can happen, including the underlying causes, some originating in the neck, and others originating in the shoulders. Common causes of neck and shoulder pain include:
One of the most common types of neck and shoulder pain is a condition called cervical radiculopathy . Cervical radiculopathy is the loss of function in a specific region of the upper extremity as a result of irritation or compression of the spinal nerve root in the neck. Anything that aggravates or comes into contact with your nerve roots in the spinal cord can lead to radiculopathy.
Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include:
- Sharp pain or tingling in the neck, shoulder, arm, or hand
- Sharp pain in your neck when you raise your head
- pain in the back of your head
- impaired reflexes
What is the cervical spine?
The cervical spine is the neck document of your spine. It consists of seven small, highly mobile bones and their associated ligaments, muscles, and discs.
Also called a clavicle fracture , this is a break in the bone that extends from the top of the sternum to the outer end of the scapula. Most broken collarbones are the result of falling on the shoulder or falling on the arm. In addition to significant pain and loss of function in the arm and shoulder, a broken collarbone can cause pain in the soft tissues extending from the shoulder to the neck, and neck and shoulder pain.
Bursa is a small sac of fluid that cushions your joints and prevents excessive friction between bone and soft tissues. Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa that can occur due to injury, infection, or disease. Shoulder bursitis can cause pain , swelling and stiffness in the shoulder joint, which can spread to the neck due to all the common structures and connections.
Rotator cuff injury
The rotator cuff is made up of the muscles and connective tissues that surround your shoulder. All of these together keep your arm in the shoulder socket. When these muscles and/or tendons are torn, it’s called a rotator cuff injury. A rotator cuff injury can result from a sports injury or from repetitive wear and tear over time and can cause neck and shoulder pain. If this happens, you will most likely experience pain in your shoulder and possibly in your neck when you try to move.
Shoulder impingement syndrome
With regard to rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingement syndrome refers to the compression of the shoulder tendons against the acromion, a bony prominence in the shoulder. The muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff are also located in this “sub-acromial” region. Impingement occurs with repeated overhead motions, such as those used in throwing sports or swimming. Shoulder impingement can also occur as a result of an injury or fall, weakness in the shoulder muscles or other things. Shoulder impingement syndrome can also cause neck and shoulder pain.
soft tissue damage
Soft tissue includes muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia (a thin covering around muscles, organs, and many other structures). This can cause pain related to naturally flexible structures, bones, and joints. When you have neck pain, you may find that your shoulder muscles lose strength. This can lead to neck and shoulder pain, shoulder impingement, and/or problems with your scapula ( such as shoulder blade pain).
Not being able to sit upright, especially if you’re at a desk all day, can harm the health of your neck and shoulders and cause neck and shoulder pain. People who sit at a desk all day may have a rounded back ( called kyphosis ) and shoulders can bend forward. This can lead to a condition known as forward head posture. In this way, you can provide the conditions necessary to create muscle tension and weakness, poor posture and pain in your shoulder and neck .
Neck and shoulder pain: Warning signs
Problems involving your heart, lungs, abdominal organs, and spinal cord can all cause neck and shoulder pain. It is recommended that you take your situation seriously and see your doctor as soon as possible after the onset of shoulder and neck pain, especially for persistent pain.
Neck and shoulder pain: Diagnosis
When you go to the doctor with neck and shoulder pain, you can expect a physical exam that includes neck and shoulder movements so your doctor can see what’s causing your pain and measure your range of motion. Imaging studies may then be requested, which may include:
- X-ray : To look at bones and joints
- Computed tomography (CT) scan : To examine the bone and spinal canal
- Magnetic resonance imaging (matrix) : To help identifyherniated discs or pinched nerves
- Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: To identify nerve problems
- Selective nerve root block: To identify the source of nerve problems
- Myelogram: To see the spinal canal and nerve roots
- Dye-injected arthrogram: To examine the shoulder joint
- Arthroscopy: To assess soft tissue damage
Neck and shoulder pain: Treatment
Most neck and shoulder injuries are treated conservatively, at least at first. Common treatments include:
- To relax
- Ice and/or heat
- Tools such as splints
- pain relievers
- corticosteroid injections
If these approaches don’t work, some conditions may require surgery. Surgery for neck and shoulder pain is more likely if:
- Persistent pain leading to decreased function
- Worsening neurological symptoms in the arms and legs
- Problems with walking or balance
Some injuries, including rotator cuff tears, often do not benefit much from conservative treatment, so surgery may be an early recommendation.
What causes neck and shoulder pain when breathing?
There are several conditions that can cause neck and/or shoulder pain when you take a deep breath:
1- Pleurisy ( swelling of the lining around the lungs and chest cavity ): Symptoms include sudden chest pain , fever, cough, and shortness of breath that can only be felt when coughing or breathing deeply.
2- Pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart): Symptoms include rapid onset of stabbing chest pain, possibly pain in the shoulder(s), fever, weakness, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms get worse if you lie down or breathe deeply.
Pleurisy and pericarditis are not usually medical emergencies, but any chest pain or breathing difficulties should be evaluated by a doctor until they are sure what is causing it.
As a result
The neck and shoulder are so interconnected and integrated that any pain in one area can cause pain in the other. If neck and shoulder pain is accompanied by bothersome symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or weakness in the limbs, it is recommended that you seek immediate medical attention.
If your pain persists, worsens, and interferes with your sleep or daily activities, it is important to discuss this with your doctor. Your doctor can help you identify the cause of your pain and find the right treatments for it so you can maintain or regain your function and quality of life.