What are the common causes of neck and shoulder pain?
According to the NHS, the most common causes of neck pain include a neck injury, bad posture or a pinched nerve. Other common causes include a shoulder impingement, which is when your shoulder tendon (the cords of tissue that connect muscles to your bones) rubs on nearby bone and tissue as you raise your arm.
Whether it be from sleeping at a strange angle or tackling a tricky DIY project — neck pain can arise unexpectedly. In a similar way, you might experience shoulder pain by being more active or labour-intensive than usual. Although uncomfortable, this type of neck and shoulder pain is considered “normal” because it has an obvious cause. It will mostly always improve with rest.
In other instances, you might experience neck and shoulder pain for reasons that require medical help to diagnose and treat properly.
There are certain symptoms which indicate your shoulder pain is caused by a problem in your neck. If you have a slightly abnormal distribution of pain, numbness, or tingling in your shoulder or arm, it could be caused by a trapped nerve in your neck. This is known as referred pain.
A consultation with your doctor can resolve any confusion you might have about where your neck and shoulder pain originate from. Your doctor will carry out a thorough examination of your shoulder and discuss your symptoms with you. Occasionally, they might arrange additional diagnostic tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI scan.
There are different types of neck and shoulder pain. The kind of pain you have will help your doctor diagnose its cause. You might have:
- A sharp or dull pain;
- Pain in one spot or spread more generally throughout the neck and shoulder;
- Intermittent or constant pain,
- Or, pain that has worsened over time.
When you meet with your doctor, they will discuss your pain in depth. They might ask:
- Does your pain have an obvious cause or trigger, or did it appear without warning?
- Have you ever had a similar type of pain in your neck and shoulder?
- Have you had a previous injury to your neck or shoulder?
- Do you have any other symptoms (even if they’re seemingly unrelated to your neck and shoulder pain)?
After the cause of your neck and shoulder pain has been determined, you can explore effective treatment options. Treatment options include:
- Rest: Neck and shoulder pain can be caused by overuse and everyday strain. By resting your shoulder and neck as much as possible, you might find that your pain settles down without treatment.
- Pain relief: Paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen could reduce your pain. You could even use an ibuprofen gel on your affected area. Before taking medication, you should speak with your doctor.
- Heat therapy: Harvard Medical recommends heat therapy for neck and shoulder pain. Many people find that placing a cold compress (or pack of frozen peas covered by a tea towel) onto their shoulder throughout the day numbs their pain. Alternatively, using a heating pad or hot water bottle helps relax your muscles and relieves tension in your affected joint.
- Physiotherapy: A physiotherapist will teach you specialist exercises to strengthen and stabilise your shoulder and neck muscles, helping reduce your pain and improve mobility in and around the shoulder.
- Hydrocortisone (steroid) injection: The hydrocortisone (steroid) injection is injected into your painful joint. This reduces pain and swelling, making movement easier. The hydrocortisone injection can improve joint pain for months at a time. While it does not cure joint pain, it can help ease pain substantially.
- Shoulder replacement surgery: This is often used to treat severe arthritis. It involves removing and replacing your damaged shoulder socket with a metal ball and (sometimes) a plastic surface. This form of treatment is used when medication, physiotherapy and steroid treatment is unsuccessful.
Book an appointment online with a specialist today.