Is It My Shoulder or Neck?

There is nothing worse than pain that limits your ability to perform daily activities and few things are more limiting than neck or shoulder pain. In many instances, patients have a difficult time deciphering whether their pain is a result of a neck injury or a shoulder injury. This is primarily because pain in the neck can radiate into the shoulders (and vice versa) because both the neck and shoulder muscles share the same nerve pathways. If a nerve is irritated it is not always going to tell the brain the correct source of where the problem is actually occurring. The disconnect between the source of the pain and where the pain is actually felt is known as “referred pain”.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is an injury to the rotator cuff, a group of tendons and muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint. When the rotator becomes damaged, it causes the body to compensate and use other muscle groups in the shoulder to lift, push or pull objects. This compensation can strain to the muscles and result in pain in the area from the top of the shoulder into the neck.

Some of the telltale signs of a rotator cuff tear are:

  • Pain that is more persistent at night
  • Pain that does not extend past the elbow
  • Pain when raising the arm or extending the arm behind your head
  • Strains from overexertion, tendonitis from overuse, shoulder joint instability, dislocation and frozen shoulder are among the many other causes of shoulder pain.

Common Causes of Neck Pain

Neck injuries are a bit different when it comes to the symptoms. The cervical spine is comprised of 7 cervical vertebrae, each with a pair of nerves that control different motor functions. If a spinal disc or bone spur irritates one of these nerves, the pain can radiate into the shoulders or arms and is known as “Radiculopathy”. This radiating pain often makes it difficult to determine if the pain is stemming from the neck or the shoulder.

One of the telltale signs of a cervical spine condition is if this electric-like stabbing or a burning/tingling in the extremities is made worse by moving your neck. Another way of distinguishing the problem area is if you experience relief in pain when you support your neck with a pillow.

Poor posture, trauma, muscle strain and degenerative diseases are other common causes for neck pain.

Cervical Spine Conditions That Can Cause Shoulder Pain

Despite some of these tell-tale signs, the trickiest part is understanding why and how your shoulder pain is being caused by a problem area located in your neck. There are four main causes of shoulder pain that stem from the neck:

  • Cervical spondylosis – This is a term that refers to arthritis of the spine.
  • Disc herniation – A disc in your spine is pushed outward and causes your nerves to become compressed
  • Spinal stenosis – This is usually due to arthritic symptoms and it is the narrowing of the spinal canal.
  • A ligament or muscle injury – This usually occurs after trauma or car accidents.

How to Treat These Conditions

The first step in treating shoulder or neck pain is a proper diagnosis with a specialist. Not treating these symptoms in the early stages can lead to worsening pain or permanent nerve damage, if not treated in the correct manner.

At the Orthopaedic Institute of Central Jersey, our staff of highly trained of Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists is prepared to treat any musculoskeletal injury or condition. We provide expert medical care in a professional, understanding and caring environment to our patients with 5 locations throughout Central New Jersey.

Furthermore, The physicians at OICJ have extensive training in the various sub specialties of orthopaedics including injuries, wrist, spine injuries, total joint reconstruction, arthroscopy, knee injuries, pediatric orthopaedics and sports medicine care, designed especially for the athlete. If you are suffering from any bone, joint, spine or muscle injury – contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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