Have you been experiencing pain in your shoulder? Well, you might be assuming that it is because of an issue with your shoulder. Makes sense right?
But did you know that in many cases, the real problem can be coming from your neck?
Multiple nerve pathways pass from the neck to the shoulder which can make it confusing when trying to distinguish neck pain from shoulder pain. Our bodies don’t always signal pain the way you would think or in a way that makes sense. Sometimes you may feel pain “here” but it is actually caused by a problem over “there”. This is very much the case when it comes to shoulder pain. Yes of course, shoulder pain can come from the shoulder, however I have seen patients come in with shoulder pain but the neck that is the true culprit.
How can this be?
Firstly, we need to understand the connection between the neck and shoulders.
The neck and shoulders are interconnected. They share bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, connective tissue and nerves which can cause pain to radiate between these areas. Pain from the shoulder can sometimes be caused by a problem with the neck because nerves and muscles that arise at the neck pass through the shoulder and down the arm.
So, how can you tell if the pain is coming from your neck or shoulder?
Often, there are symptoms of each which can help to identify whether your shoulder pain is actually from your shoulder or from your neck.
Pain that typically originates from the shoulder include:
- Pain that develops in the shoulder itself or outside of your upper arm.
- Pain that radiates down your upper arm.
- Pain that worsens with overhead reaching.
- Pain that worsens with reaching behind your back.
- Pain that worsens at night when lying on your painful shoulder.
- Pain that feels better after resting your arm.
When your neck is the source of your pain, symptoms often include:
- Radiating pain into your shoulder blade.
- Sharp pain that may feel like an electric shock.
- Pain that radiates down to your elbow or even to your hand or fingers.
- Pain that worsens with neck movement.
- Pain that does not relieve with rest.
Causes of shoulder pain caused by the neck:
There are many injuries that affect the neck or around the neck which can cause shoulder pain. Nerve irritation and compression is the most common cause. Carrying heavy bags, spending hours of time hunched over the computer can irritate the nerves in your neck.Even sleeping on an unsupportive mattress or pillow can cause compression of the nerves in your neck.
These are some examples of conditions that can affect the neck causing shoulder pain:
Cervical Radiculopathy: Pinched nerve which occurs in your neck and sends pain down to your shoulder and arm. This can be caused by a stiff neck, poor posture or neck/back weakness.
Brachial Plexus Injury: The brachial plexus is the bundle of nerves which begin in the neck
and and bunch together in the lower neck/chest area and run through the shoulder. Injury
to this area can cause significant shoulder pain. This can be caused by a fall or rugby tackle
where your neck may have stretched to one causing the nerves to overstretch.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: This is a group of disorders where blood vessels or nerves in the
space between your first rib and collarbone (thoracic outlet) are compressed.
Getting the Right Treatment
If your pain is mild, in many cases heat and simple neck stretches/movements can help to relieve your pain. However, if your pain is worsening or you have had this pain for a while and it is really starting to affect your life, our practitioners are all well-versed in treating the above conditions and any pain which may be affecting your shoulder so make an appointment right away and get the treatment you need to get your pain under control and enjoy life without pain.