Neck and Shoulder Pain

Neck and shoulder pain can be classified in many different ways. Some people experience only neck pain or only shoulder pain, while others experience pain in both areas.

What causes Neck Pain?

Causes of neck pain include:

  • Abnormalities in the bone or joints
  • Trauma
  • Poor posture
  • Degenerative diseases
  • Tumors
  • Muscle strain

What causes Shoulder Pain?

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint with a large range of movement. Such a mobile joint tends to be more susceptible to injury. Shoulder pain can stem from one or more of the following causes:

  • Strains from overexertion
  • Tendonitis from overuse
  • Shoulder joint instability
  • Dislocation
  • Collar or upper arm bone fractures
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Pinched nerves (also called radiculopathy)

When the Shoulder is the usual suspect

Shoulder pain is most often caused by an injury to the rotator cuff, a group of tendons and muscles that stabilize the joint. The rotator cuff develops wear and tear with age, and can be easily injured. When this happens, we compensate by using different muscles to pick things up or reach for them. “This may cause both shoulder and neck pain,” says Dr. Ricchetti. You may have a rotator cuff injury or other shoulder problem if pain:

  • Develops in the shoulder itself or on the outside of your upper arm
  • Is dull and aching
  • Occurs when you reach overhead or behind your back, or when lifting
  • Radiates into the upper arm, but not past the elbow
  • Persists at night
  • Improves when you rest your arm

When the neck is the likely culprit

Inflammation of any of the 14 nerves or eight pairs of joints in the neck can cause neck pain. The joints — or vertebrae — serve as a “hinge” that lets us nod or shake our heads during conversation (no wonder they wear out). In fact, 65 percent of 65-year-olds have arthritis in one or more neck joints.

“Because pain in one area can so often be confused with another, a thorough exam must be done, including range of motion, strength testing and provocative neck and shoulder maneuvers,” says Dr. Mayer. You may have arthritis or nerve-related neck pain if pain:

  • Develops in your shoulder blade, or close to or on the side of your neck
  • Is sharp, stabbing, burning or tingling
  • Radiates down past your elbow or even into your hand
  • Persists at rest
  • Occurs when you extend your arms or twist them inward
  • Is relieved when you support your neck

5 ways to relieve pain from a shoulder problem

  1. Resting from activities that aggravate pain
  2. Physical therapy exercises
  3. Icing the shoulder, especially at night
  4. Anti-inflammatory medications
  5. Cortisone injections to reduce inflammation in the shoulder

4 ways to relieve pain from a neck problem

  1. Physical therapy, including posture therapy
  2. Anti-inflammatory medications and /or muscle relaxants
  3. Ice, heat and massage therapy
  4. Injection of cortisone to reduce inflammation or local anesthetics to relieve pain



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