The human spine is divided into three major sections: the lumbar spine (lower back), thoracic spine (middle back) and cervical spine (upper back and neck). Neck pain is usually associated with issues of the cervical spine, and sometimes shoulder pain can be associated with them as well.
Most often, shoulder and neck pain occur together due to their proximity to one another. An issue causing pain in the neck can spread to other parts of the (upper) body, including the shoulders, and vice versa.
Some of the main causes of neck and shoulder pain occurring together include:
- Damage to the soft tissue in the upper back, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments, such as a muscle strain or sprain in either the neck or the shoulders
- Nerve compression, also known as a pinched nerve in the upper back/neck that is most often caused by a bulging or herniated disc
- Wear and tear of the spinal structure, associated with aging, including that of the spinal discs (especially cervical discs), vertebrae, joints and muscles in the neck or back
- Poor posture, either while standing or sitting down for prolonged periods of time
- Issues with the rotator cuff (joint between the arm and the neck)
- Bone spurs, which are arthritic bony formations that can impinge on nerve roots and lead to a pinched nerve. When bone spurs appear along the cervical spine they can cause pain in the neck, and subsequently in the shoulders.
- Spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that the spinal cord passes through
- Herniated discs in the cervical or sometime thoracic spine
- Other issues with the vertebral column, spinal cord, or spinal nerves
Symptoms that come along with neck and shoulder pain
As previously stated, shoulder and neck pain tend to occur together due to their positioning that is close to one another. That being said:
- When pain is triggered in the neck, it can either manifest locally, or refer (be felt in other parts of the body other that the source) to the shoulder, including in-between the shoulder blades, arms, or hands
- Along with the pain the sufferer may experience a restricted range of motion in the neck, shoulder, arms, hands and upper back in general
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulders, or back
- In worse cases, some people experience what is called a ‘frozen shoulder’. This is a chronic condition in which the sufferer’s pain and stiffness in the shoulder lasts for several months. In extreme cases this condition can last for years.
Before any treatment is considered, it is advised to obtain a diagnosis from a medical professional (preferably from a spinal specialist) to determine the exact cause of your symptoms, and whether the issue originates in the spine, neck, shoulder, or elsewhere.
This process usually starts with a physical exam, where the specialist inspects the affected region for any abnormalities, asking questions about the patient’s medical history, to help the diagnosis.
Once the cause of the patient’s symptoms is confirmed, one or more of the following pain management and treatment options are considered:
- Anti inflammatory medication to temporarily provide pain relief and reduce inflammation
- Physical therapy to mobilise the neck, back or shoulder and restore their range of motion and flexibility
- Painkilling injections that act in a similar manner to anti inflammatory medication, also providing temporary pain relief
- Hot/cold fomentation that is applied to the affected area in order to soothe the pain and/or inflammation
- Rest is recommended to reduce the strain placed on the affected part of the body
- Taking a break from one’s desk a few times a day to stretch the neck and back from the slumped position they were in while sitting
- Exercise to strengthen the muscles in the neck and back, which will help provide more support to the upper part of the body, as well as stretching any affected region
Alternative therapy with a spinal decompression device, such as the Backrack, to restore the natural shape of the spine and remove any abnormalities that led to the onset of problems in the neck and/or shoulder
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