You may know something that other people don’t if you’ve ever dealt with persistent pain that didn’t seem to have a clear answer. Unfortunately, modern medicine doesn’t always do enough to connect the dots when it comes to the underlying causes of persistent pain. This is especially true when it comes to shoulder pain. Shoulder pain can be particularly difficult to get to the bottom of because the nerve networks in and around the shoulders are linked with so many other parts of the body. In fact, shoulder pain is often related to something that is occurring in the neck. Just how deep does the shoulder-neck pain connection run? Let’s explore why shoulder pain and neck issues are often intertwined.
Exploring Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can have a number of different causes. While pain can be exclusively connected to the shoulder, it’s also important to explore other options. In fact, sudden and acute shoulder pain can be a sign of a serious medical event like a heart attack. For this reason, it’s important to seek immediate medical care if you’re experiencing severe shoulder pain. Shoulder pain can also be the result of a rotator-cuff tear caused by stress or a fall. Any type of soft-tissue injury involving the shoulder can also be responsible for shoulder pain.
Referred Pain: Why a Neck Issue Is Causing Shoulder Pain
Discovering referred pain can make a light bulb go off for people suffering from shoulder pain who can’t quite pinpoint the cause. Referred pain refers to pain that is felt in one area even though it originates in another area. This is extremely common when it comes to the neck and shoulders. The close connection between the nerves running through the neck and shoulder is responsible for this “sensory confusion.” Here are some telltale symptoms of referred pain from the neck that is presenting in the shoulder:
- A stabbing, burning sensation in the shoulder area.
- Tingling in the shoulder area.
- Radiating pain to the shoulder blade.
- Pain that courses down your arm when you twist/adjust your neck.
- Pain that seems to diminish or go away when your neck is supported.
The symptoms can linger for months or years without improvement in some people. Unfortunately, many people put the focus on simply “managing pain” in the shoulder without attempting to get to the root cause of the pain. What’s more, some rehab efforts only focus on strengthening the shoulders and arm to try to reduce pain. While these efforts can be helpful, they often fail to create lasting relief and healing because the underlying issue remains ignored.
What Is the Most Common Cause?
The most common reason for shoulder pain that originates in the neck is a pinched nerve. Known as cervical radiculopathy, a pinched neck nerve will create severe pain that radiates toward the shoulder. In some cases, the pain may be so concentrated in the shoulder area that the patient is unaware that their neck is involved at all! Pinched nerves in the neck can be caused by strain, age, injury or bone spurns. Generally, a pinched nerve causes tingling or numbness that extends down to the hands and fingers. In addition, you may feel a mysterious weakness in the muscles located throughout your shoulder region, arm, and hand. People who are suffering from cervical radiculopathy can be encouraged by the fact that studies have shown good outcomes for patients who use chiropractic care to treat this condition. Here’s a look at some common neck conditions that are known to cause shoulder pain:
- Cervical spondylosis (spinal arthritis).
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine).
- Disc prolepses putting pressure on nerves.
- Ligament and muscle injuries.
Typically, shoulder pain that originates in the neck is felt at the top portion of your shoulder. Shoulder pain that originates in the shoulder is often felt in the upper-arm area. However, those are just guidelines that can be helpful for diagnosing shoulder pain. Again, the “referred” nature of shoulder pain that begins in the neck can make it very difficult to tell exactly where pain is radiating from. This is why it is so important to have a full examination done when trying to diagnose and treat your shoulder pain. When you work with a chiropractor, both the neck and shoulder are assessed fully to try to differentiate between the different pain points that may be creating your symptoms. In addition, you’ll have a chance to go over your health history and explore specialized diagnostic options.
Beyond Treating Pain: Ending and Preventing the Pain Through Chiropractic Care
Many people trigger serious nerve compression in the neck and spinal nervous system through improper form and posture. Most people are never taught how to maintain proper posture while sitting at a desk. As a result, people who spend long hours in front of the computer may be “hunching” in a way that compresses nerves in the neck and shoulders. Additionally, doing repetitive tasks during the workday using improper posture can also create a perfect environment for pinching a nerve. Even glancing down at our phones throughout the day using a “stooping” configuration can create long-term pain issues. When you seek chiropractic care, getting rid of shoulder and neck pain is only part of the strategy. A chiropractor can instruct you on techniques and exercises for better posture that can help to prevent neck and shoulder pain. In addition, these tips can help you to strengthen your shoulders to prevent future strain or injury.
Can Chiropractic Care Help If I’m Already Treating It
Chiropractic care can be an important supplement to other types of exercises or therapies that you’re utilizing to treat chronic shoulder pain. In fact, chiropractors often work with other types of professionals to create holistic, complete plans for relieving current pain while preventing further injury. There’s no need to abandon existing treatment options if you’re curious to discover if chiropractic care can get rid of shoulder pain.
Ask a Chiropractor: Is My Neck Causing My Shoulder Pain?
Yes, it’s possible that a blockage or misalignment in your neck is responsible for radiating shoulder pain. However, it’s impossible to determine if this is the case without an examination. The good news is that adjustments in the cervical spine can often help to treat the underlying neck issue to eliminate pain that radiates to the shoulders. This can often take several treatments to create lasting, full results. However, many patients are surprised to discover just how “free” and “flexible” they feel almost immediately if they’ve been living with persistent shoulder pain for months or years. One of the benefits of seeing a chiropractor for shoulder pain is that treatment options are available even if it turns out that the pain you’re experiencing isn’t originating in your neck. Chiropractors have a large number of specialized treatments for rotator cuff tears and other injuries related to the shoulders and arms. In addition, the whole-body approach that chiropractors use to address conditions will enable you to correct your posture or adjust common movements to avoid putting pressure on the nerves that are responsible for shoulder pain.