Your shoulder pain could be coming from your neck | Total Performance Physical Therapy

Your shoulder pain could be coming from your neck

March 13, 2016

Many patients come to physical therapy looking for help with their shoulder pain. While there are many diagnoses of the shoulder that could be causing your pain, one commonly overlooked cause of shoulder pain is the neck. This is called “referred pain,” which means that impairments or injuries in one part of the body cause pain in a different area.

How does this happen?
All of the bones and muscles in the body are somehow connected to each other, so a change in one part of the body can have effects on the others. There are a few muscles that connect the 7 neck bones to your shoulder blades. If the bones in your neck becomes stiff, or the natural curve in your neck bones is changed by poor posture, this can cause an extra pull on or increased stress in these connector muscles. Since these muscles are connected to your neck and your shoulder, you may feel the pain from the muscle near the shoulder, even though the original problem (stiffness or posture) is in the neck! There are also 8 different nerves that come out of the spine from your neck, which branch out into even more nerves (just like a tree), and go around your shoulder and down your arm. Nerves send a signal from the muscles and joints to the brain when they’re hurt, and then the brain lets you know that something isn’t right by making you feel pain. Since the nerves of the neck and shoulder are so close together & connected, sometimes the brain has a hard time figuring out if the signal is coming from the shoulder or the neck, and sends you the wrong message. While it might be difficult for you to figure this out on your own, physical therapists know what questions to ask and what special tests to do to help figure this out.

Signs and symptoms:

Physical therapy:
The overall prognosis for treating this type of pain with physical therapy is very good! Physical therapists are masters of muscles & joints, and know how to figure out if your shoulder pain is actually coming from your neck. The goal for our treatment is to move the pain away from the shoulder towards the neck, and then get rid of it all together!

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