August 28, 2020

What can cause neck and shoulder pain?

Neck, Back and Spine | Shoulder


Shoulder problems can be felt in your neck, and neck problems can radiate down to your shoulder. So how do you know where your pain is coming from? Determining the source of your pain will help get you the best results for recovery.

OrthoIndy spine surgeon, Dr. Kevin O’Neill discusses causes, symptoms and conditions of neck and shoulder injuries and explains how to tell which body part is actually injured.

Can shoulder problems cause neck pain?

Pain in your shoulder can be differentiated from pain in your neck by where the pain initially radiates from in your body.

“In the simplest cases, pain caused by moving the shoulder is likely from a shoulder injury and pain caused by neck movement is from a neck injury,” Dr. O’Neill said.

The muscles and ligaments attaching the shoulder to the spine often are the culprit for pain radiating from one place to another. If the nerves in your neck get irritated, pain and even sometimes numbness and tingling, can radiate down to your shoulder.

“Many cases are not this straightforward,” said Dr. O’Neill. “The most effective way to get a correct diagnosis is to see a specialist who treats both the spine and shoulder.”


Could my shoulder pain be coming from my neck?

Symptoms will vary depending on the condition or injury. Common neck pain symptoms include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Sharp pain
  • General soreness
  • Headaches
  • Decreased ability to move your head
  • Muscle tightness and spasms and your neck
Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

Common shoulder pain symptoms include:

  • Sudden shoulder swelling
  • Weakness or numbness in the arm or hand
  • Dull shoulder aches
  • Sharp pain under your shoulder blade
  • Pain radiating from your neck to your shoulder blade

Why does my shoulder and neck hurt?

There are several conditions that affect both your neck and shoulder.

“There are a few conditions in the neck that commonly cause shoulder pain,” Dr. O’Neill said. “Compression or irritation of the nerves coming out the neck will often cause pain to radiate to the shoulder.”

When your nerves are irritated, numbness and tingling can also occur in your arm and there can also be weakness in your shoulder muscles.

If you directly injure, sprain or strain any muscle connecting your shoulder to your spine, it will cause pain in your neck and shoulder.

“The most common condition that would affect both the shoulder and neck is arthritis,” Dr. O’Neill said.

The neck and shoulders are two very common places for arthritis. If you have arthritis in both joints, pain can radiate through both at the same time.

To determine whether you have neck or shoulder arthritis, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray or MRI may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and determine if there are other problems.

What is the best treatment for neck and shoulder pain?

Neck and shoulder pain can cause pain that hinders you from daily life. There are some home remedies to help relieve the pain you are feeling in your shoulder or neck.

  • Keep your glasses prescription up to date. Sometimes, when your glasses are old, you tilt your head to see better.
  • Don’t use too many pillows. Your neck’s range of motion may repress your neck’s range of motion.
  • Over the counter pain medication
  • Get a massage
  • Change your ergonomics. Put your computer at eye level, prop up any tablet you use on a pillow and use hands-free functions on your phone to keep your neck and shoulders at the correct angle.

When should I see a doctor for shoulder and neck pain?

“Many patients treat their neck or shoulder pain with over the counter medications along with resting and avoiding activities that aggravate the pain,” Dr. O’Neill said.

If your neck or shoulder pain persists after conservative treatment, Dr. O’Neill suggests getting it checked by a professional at OrthoIndy who is trained in both spine and shoulder conditions.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. O’Neill, please call 317.802.2429 or learn more about OrthoIndy Spine and Dr. O’Neill.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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