The neck and shoulder area is a complex network of bones, muscles, and tissues. This complex part of the body is often the site of pain, soreness, injury, and other degenerative issues. The neck and shoulder pain may be caused by many different factors. You may experience the two in isolation or together. Let’s take a look at some of the most common neck and shoulder pain causes.
What can cause neck pain?
We are constantly using our neck muscles even without realizing it. Hence, the muscles of the neck are highly susceptible to injuries and sprains or strains. Spraining a muscle in the neck is the most common cause of neck pain. This may cause pain in the muscles, ligaments or tendons and the pain may be categorized as acute pain or chronic, long-term pain. Some of the other causes of neck pain include:
- Poor posture
- Injury or trauma
- Degenerative diseases
- Abnormality of the bones
What can cause shoulder pain?
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint that is capable of a wide range of movements. This makes it highly prone to injuries which are a common cause of shoulder pain. Some of the other causes of shoulder pain are:
- Overexertion and overuse of the muscles
- Instability of the joint
- Frozen shoulder
- Fracture of the collar or upper arm bones
Can neck issues cause shoulder pain?
Neck and shoulder pain causes are often related. The neck is made up of seven small bones that are highly susceptible to postural misalignment and injury as well as degenerative conditions like arthritis. Neck problems can often lead to shoulder pain in the form of cervical radiculopathy. This is because the nerve roots on either side of the spinal column, including the neck bones, branch off toward other parts of the body including the arms. Hence, when the neck is affected by an injury or wear and tear, the shoulders may feel the pain as well. Some of the common conditions that can cause radiculopathy are:
- Cervical spondylitis that causes the development of bone spurs around the neck
- Spinal stenosis that leads to a narrowing of parts of the spinal column
- Neck arthritis that affects the shock-absorbing cushions between the bones of the neck
- Degenerative disc disease that affects the alignment of the neck bones
Can shoulder issues cause neck pain?
In many cases, neck and shoulder pain causes may be limited to certain factors. These causes are almost the same in every individual. Neck pain due to a shoulder issue usually stems from an injury or soft tissue damage. Some of the other factors that may contribute toward neck and shoulder pain causes are:
- Collarbone fracture – Competitive athletes have a high risk of such fractures.
- Shoulder bursitis – This refers to the inflammation of fluid-filled sacs in the shoulder joint.
- Shoulder blade injury – This includes fractures that may result from a trauma.
- Rotator cuff injury – This refers to tearing the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint.
- Shoulder impingement syndrome – This refers to the compression of shoulder tendons because of repeated overhead movements.
Soft tissue neck and shoulder pain causes
Along with issues related to the bone, issues affecting the soft tissue around the joints can also cause neck and shoulder pain. This includes muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
As mentioned above, injuring the neck may have an effect on the shoulders and vice versa. For example, neck pain caused by bad posture may affect the strength of the arm muscles. This may, in turn, lead to issues with the shoulder blade or shoulder impingement. Similarly, pain in the shoulder’s acromioclavicular joint may cause radiating pain in the neck.
Whiplash is another common cause of shoulder and neck pain. This can be described as a severe jerk to the head that can, in turn, cause muscle sprains and strains in the neck. It may also affect the ligaments of the neck. This type of injury does not differentiate between the neck and shoulder and hence causes pain in both areas. Car accidents are a common cause of whiplash.
Bad posture can also contribute toward neck and shoulder pain. People who work at desks all day are at a high risk of developing shoulders that are inwardly round and postural conditions such as kyphosis. This can, in turn, lead to a condition wherein the neck and shoulder muscles collude to cause muscle tension, pain, and weakness. It is also known as forward head posture.
The good news is that most types of shoulder and neck pain can be easily treated. This usually takes the form of ice packs, pain relievers, and muscle relaxants. Surgery is usually required only if the nerve roots are involved. In some cases such as when bad posture contributes to the pain, it can even be prevented.