Is Your Shoulder Pain Coming From Your Neck? | Physical Therapy for everyBODY
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Is Your Shoulder Pain Coming From Your Neck?

Shoulder Pain

Recently, we had an awesome patient enter our world who was having shoulder pain. She followed the typical route many people go through before seeing us. She saw her primary MD who referred her for an X-ray. On her follow up visit, the doctor explained that her shoulder X-ray was unremarkable. So far, the story is completely standard. It’s what the doctor said next that blew my mind. He told my patient:

So, your shoulder pain is probably coming from your neck.

This was mind blowing to me because I have rarely found doctors who will tell patients this. So, they enter my world after being sent to Physical Therapy with shoulder pain. After a thorough evaluation, I explain to the patient that their SHOULDER pain is actually coming from their NECK…which sounds crazy at first.

Maybe you have wondered why your shoulder pain is not resolving even though you have rested, iced, taken pain medication, and even tried Physical Therapy where you were given a sheet of shoulder exercises that did nothing for your pain.

Then, join me on a journey to understand the intricate connection between shoulder pain and the neck. While it’s often assumed that shoulder pain stems solely from problems within the shoulder joint itself, it’s crucial to recognize that sometimes the root cause lies elsewhere, particularly in the neck. Understanding the connection between neck and shoulder pain is essential for effective diagnosis and treatment.

The Anatomy of Shoulder Pain Coming From Your Neck

To comprehend the relationship between neck and shoulder pain, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the anatomy involved. The neck is also called the cervical spine and is made up of seven vertebrae. These vertebrae support the weight of the head and allow for the head to move through multiple planes.

The vertebrae also house the spinal cord which is the electrical wiring of the body. In between each vertebrae, a nerve exits and travels down into the arm. These nerves provide sensation and motor function allowing your arm to perform all the movements of daily activity.

The shoulder itself is a complex structure that consists of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade, and collarbone form the bony framework. Muscles and tendons (including the infamous rotator cuff muscles) provide stability and mobility to the arm.

What Causes Neck-Related Shoulder Pain?

Several factors can contribute to shoulder pain that is originating from your neck. One common cause is cervical radiculopathy which occurs when a nerve root in the neck becomes compressed or irritated. This compression can result from conditions including a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease. As a result, individuals may experience pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness that radiates from the neck and down the arm.

Another reason behind neck-related shoulder pain is poor posture. Prolonged periods of slouching or maintaining an improper alignment can place undue stress on the neck and shoulder muscles, leading to pain and stiffness. Additionally, injuries such as whiplash, strains, or sprains can damage the soft tissues of the neck and shoulder, triggering pain and dysfunction.

A very common cause of shoulder pain that originates in the neck is improper breathing habits. You see, in our culture today, we tend to live in fight or flight mode. This causes us to use the neck muscles for regular breathing instead of working the diaphragm, the big muscle at the base of the rib cage that is designed especially for this purpose. When you use your neck muscles for breathing, this causes overuse and increased tension in the muscles of the neck.

Diagnosing Neck Related Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain originating from the neck often presents with characteristic symptoms that distinguish it from other shoulder conditions. You may describe your pain as a dull ache or a sharp, shooting pain that radiates from the neck into the shoulder (and sometimes down the arm!). Activities such as turning the head or raising your arm may exacerbate your pain with changes in position may providing temporary relief.

Diagnosing neck related shoulder pain involves a comprehensive evaluation by a Specialist Physical Therapist. This evaluation must include a thorough discussion of your symptoms including progression of your symptoms over time. This discussion allows us to create a clear hypothesis of what is the root cause of your pain. Then, it’s time to test that hypothesis by guiding your body through a series of movements designed to specifically identify the source of your pain and the reason why this pain started in the first place.

Treating Shoulder Pain Originating in the Neck

Once your Specialist has determined the root cause of your pain and why that tissue got damaged, it’s easy to determine the correct path towards healing. You see, every tissue is designed to heal itself as long as it’s moving correctly. Once your Specialist understands why your body is not moving correctly you will be given a specific treatment program designed for you.

The program will be designed particularly with your body in mind. At Physical Therapy for Everybody, that plan involves manual therapy to help restore normal motion to your body. You may also be given specific exercises to help facilitate healing in your body between sessions.

Many people who come to see us feel that they need to strengthen their body to maintain the challenges of life. What we find is that most people are strong enough to accomplish their daily goals but they lack the motion to do so without pain. Which is why we don’t understand why the typical Physical Therapy programs give you a sheet of strengthening exercises that often don’t work and may actually make the problem worse.

Shoulder pain that originates in your neck often requires activity modification, breathing exercises, and ergonomic evaluation of your daily activities. These will be included in your program at PT4EB to help you maintain the gains made in therapy and manage this problem in the long term. Because the last thing you want is to invest your time and money into a quick fix that only puts a band aid on the pain. Our tribe is looking to solve this problem for good and implement strategies to keep this pain from coming back.

If you are looking for tips you can implement today to decrease your neck related shoulder pain, then download our Free Ebook to learn more about what you can do right now to decrease your symptoms. And, if you are ready to start your healing journey, simply apply for one of our Free Discovery Visits. During this visit, we will hear your story, learn more about your pain, discuss what has (or hasn’t) worked so far and determine if we are the next best step on your journey. Rest assured, if we don’t believe our Specialists are the best people to help you reach your goals, we will do our very best to guide you to your next steps.

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Struggling with pain and dysfunction can impact every part of our lives — it drains our energy, distracts us from our goals, and keeps us from the people and activities we love. As an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Dr. Amy Konvalin understands how frustrating those limitations can be — and she knows how to help get you back to the life you want to live! Beginning with a focused evaluation, Dr. Amy works to determine the root causes of your pain, as well as understanding how it affects the way you move through your world. Dysfunctional patterns of movement often grow worse with time and cause further damage if left untreated — so it’s important to address these issues as soon as possible. Dr. Amy knows there is no one-size-fits-all plan for success, and she partners with patients to identify their unique treatment goals and personal values. Using these goals as a guide, Amy uses her doctorate training in manual (hands-on) therapy and exercise prescription to treat patients with a wide variety of medical challenges and histories throughout the Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Covington areas. Dr. Amy is also a wife to a Boeing superstar/former C-130 navigator. While they lived in Germany, Dr. Amy was able to volunteer with the US Army to treat military personnel and civilians on base. She has two beautiful teenage ballerinas who keep her on her toes and educate her on all things ballet! Bailey, the princess pup, is her running partner and her napping partner. In the spare moments in between, Amy enjoys reading, yoga, wine with friends, Pilates, and walking on the beach.
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