When Shoulder Pain Is Actually Coming From Your Neck

Woman suffering from neck pain

Can your neck cause shoulder pain? Yes. There are a lot of interconnected muscles in the shoulder and neck. This means that pain in one place can often come from the other. The way our bodies report pain is sometimes unreliable. Neck and shoulder pain can often indicate another problem or be a sign of overlapping problems. When an injury occurs to these areas, the brain can’t always trace the pathway of that pain to its source, because the neck and shoulder have so many connected nerve pathways.

Signs Shoulder Pain is Related to Your Neck

Inflammation of any of the 14 nerves or 8 pairs of joints in the neck can cause shoulder pain as well as neck pain. As one of the hardest working areas of our body, it’s not surprising that they’re responsible for a lot of cases of shoulder and neck pain.

Symptoms that may indicate your shoulder pain is related to your neck includes pain that is:

  • Radiating to your shoulder blade, close to or on the side of your neck
  • Stabbing, burning or tingling
  • Persisting even during rest
  • Radiating down your arm when you twist or extend your neck
  • Going away when you support your neck

Since pain in one area can be confused with another, only a thorough examination by a medical professional can determine the cause. This includes motion testing and strength testing.

Shoulder Pain Causes

The eight nerve roots branching from each side of the cervical spine in the neck are labelled C1 to C8. The nerve roots C3 to C8 all go through a specific part of your shoulder. If any of these cervical nerve roots become compressed or irritated in the neck, pain can radiate along the path of the nerve into the shoulder, arm or hand. This is called cervical radiculopathy.

Common neck problems can cause symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, including:

  • Cervical degenerative disc disease – This occurs when the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae lose too much hydration over time, becoming thinner and unable to do its job. This can produce pain, irritation and pressure on the nearby nerve root.
  • Cervical herniated disc – If the outer layer of the intervertebral disc gets a tear that allows the inner gel to leak out, it can inflame and irritate the nerve root nearby.
  • Cervical osteoarthritis – When a facet joint in the neck is affected by arthritis, inflammation and excess bone growth can alter the joint’s size and spacing, resulting in a nerve root being irritated or impinged.
  • Cervical foraminal stenosis – When the nerve root becomes compressed while going through the foramen (a small hole in the bony vertebral construct), it can result in shoulder pain. The narrowing of the foramen can occur in several ways, from the overgrowth of bone spurs to a herniated disc.

This isn’t all the conditions that can cause radicular pain in the shoulder. You should always consult a health professional for an exact diagnosis.

Consult With A Professional In Melbourne

Pinnacle Health Group provides a range of services including physiotherapy, massage, clinical Pilates, yoga and more in multiple locations in Melbourne. If you’re injured or need health advice, book an appointment from one of our centrally based health clinics or join a wellness class near you.

Recommended Posts