Patients that have pain in the shoulder often will also have pain in their neck, and vice versa. Patients with neck pain may also have an experience pain in their shoulder.
This highlights the importance of beginning your treatment for musculoskeletal pain with an orthopedic surgeon who is an expert in evaluation and diagnosis of musculoskeletal problems and injuries.
So how exactly are neck pain and shoulder pain related?
The first way that they are related is by something called splinting. Patients that have pain originating in the shoulder joint, whether it is caused by inflammation, biceps tendon problems, arthritis, or rotator cuff conditions, will often perform splinting.
Splinting is an activity that we often perform without even knowing it.
Most people think of a splint as an object that we put on, but is also thing that we do. When we have pain in a certain joint, we can use the muscles that are attached in and around that joint to hold the joint still so that it hurts less. This is called splinting.
When the shoulder is painful, it is not uncommon to use the muscles at the base of the neck, the chest muscles, back muscles, and even muscles in your armpit to hold the shoulder still so that it does not hurt you. In the short-term this may make your shoulder feel better, however in the long-term it can cause harm because those muscles will eventually grow tired, experience spasm, and begin to cause pain themselves.
How else are shoulder and neck pain related?
Another way that neck and shoulder pain are related is that problems in the neck can often mimic shoulder pain. Because the nerves that come out of the neck send signals to and from the shoulder joint, problems such as pinching of those nerves in the neck can often be experienced by the patient as shoulder problems and shoulder pain rather than as nerve problems and nerve pain.
This is why a physical examination by a qualified orthopedic surgeon is of utmost importance.
Orthopedic surgeons are experts at distinguishing between pain that is truly originating in your shoulder and pain that is likely originating at the level of the neck. There are also experts at knowing what the next step is necessary, whether further imaging or surgery is necessary, or whether simple watchful waiting, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and anti-inflammatories is okay.
If you have shoulder pain, even if you have pain radiating into your neck, your back, or numbness and tingling traveling down your arm, a visit with an orthopedic shoulder and upper extremity specialist is a good first starting point to get answers and relief.
Call at 919-872-5296 to book an appointment with Dr. Johnny T. Nelson.