Neck and shoulder pain: Why are you feeling this pain combo?

Every now and again, we all feel neck pain. It’s often due to awkward sleeping positions or looking down at our phones too long. And shoulder pain is also something everyone experiences from time to time, due to excessive strain while doing things like moving furniture or playing sports. But what if you’re feeling both types of pain simultaneously? 

It’s common to experience neck or shoulder pain on their own. Shoulder pain is one of the most common types of pain for people to experience. Up to 26% of adults feel pain in their shoulders at any given time. And neck pain is almost just as common, with research showing a mean prevalence rate of 23.1% for neck pain in the general population. 

Read on to learn about why neck and shoulder pain are often connected, potential causes for the pain combo, and how physical therapy can help.

Why do neck and shoulder pain often occur together?

Because your neck and shoulders are connected by soft tissue, muscles and ligaments, your body parts can share pain at the same time. They’re also connected by nerves known as pain receptors, which are used to transmit pain signals to the brain.

It’s possible that pain or injury symptoms from one of the areas will influence the other. For instance, pain from stooped shoulders can translate to pain in your neck when moving it from side to side.

5 potential causes of simultaneous neck and shoulder pain

Concurrent neck and shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of issues, especially injuries in either body part. While some of the causes aren’t a call for serious concern, others may need further medical assistance.

Five potential causes of simultaneous neck and shoulder pain are:

  • Muscle spasm — A muscle can spasm in either your neck or shoulder, making it painful to move them due to the muscles stiffening up. This soft tissue injury can cause tension that radiates throughout the areas, and it’s usually caused by a pulled muscle during strenuous physical activity.
  • Rotator cuff tear — The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles located in your shoulder that cover the head of the humerus and attach it to the shoulder blade. It allows you to raise and rotate your arm. Tearing your rotator cuff can cause pain at the base of your neck that can radiate up toward the back of your head.
  • Whiplash — If you’re in a car accident or sustain a sports injury, there’s a chance that your neck moves in a rapid back-and-forth motion, causing whiplash. This injury can tear the ligaments and muscles in your neck, causing pain and decreased mobility. It can also cause pain in your shoulder or between your shoulder blades. Shoulder pain from whiplash is often referred pain, meaning that it’s perceived in a place other than the source.
  • Poor posture — Having incorrect posture can affect every body part from the base of your spine to the top of your neck. As we mentioned in an earlier example, stooped shoulders can cause you to overextend your neck, resulting in strained neck muscles. Poor posture can also result in shoulder impingement, which is when a tendon rubs against the shoulder blade, causing pain in both the shoulder and neck.
  • Herniated disc — When a disc between your spinal vertebrae has a tear and releases a piece of the nucleus, it can rub against the spinal nerve and cause pain and numbness. A herniated disc can occur in your neck, resulting in pain that can radiate through your shoulder and down your arm. The pain can worsen during neck movements.

How physical therapy can help shoulder and neck pain

Physical therapy is one of the best treatment options for pain in nearly any part of the body, including both the neck and shoulder. And when you’re feeling them at the same time, your therapist can help you determine the exact source of your pain and choose the best methods to alleviate it.

Hands-on techniques like joint mobilization, myofascial technique and soft tissue mobilization are just a few of the options that a physical therapist may try to help your neck and shoulder pain. The goal is to release the tension that’s causing the pain and increase your range of motion.

A physical therapist will also show you how to safely and effectively execute exercises that will stretch and strengthen your shoulder and neck muscles. Increasing their strength and flexibility reduces the risk of future injury.

Depending on the cause, your physical therapist may also recommend treatments such as electrical stimulation or spinal decompression.

Lattimore PT can help with neck and shoulder pain

Having either pain in your neck or shoulder can be frustrating, but dealing with both at the same time can make it nearly impossible to handle your day-to-day activities without wincing from the discomfort. Physical therapy can help you determine the source of the pain to help alleviate it and restore your range of motion.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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