How Shoulder Pain Can be a Neck Issue

While most shoulder pain stems from issues within the shoulder itself, occasionally, discomfort may originate in the neck. Six of the eight cervical nerves pass through a specific location within the shoulder. Because of the location of the nerves, pain felt throughout the shoulder and into the arm and hand may be due to compression or irritation of one or more of the nerves. This condition is medically known as cervical radiculopathy and must be diagnosed by a qualified medical professional.

Symptoms of Neck-Related Shoulder Pain

Neck-related shoulder pain varies, but often includes:

  • Localized pain within the shoulder or surrounding areas. This pain may also radiate down the arm and even into the hand.
  • Tingling, weakness, or numbness in the shoulder that may also radiate down the arm.
  • Pain that varies with movement or constant pain that may feel either dull or sharp.

Research has shown that radiculopathy of cervical nerves C5-C8 tends to follow specific patterns. Depending on the nerve affected, pain may be felt in very specific areas in and around the shoulder. It may also vary in intensity and exhibit differences in depth and breadth.

Causes of Neck-Related Shoulder Pain

An arthritic joint in the cervical spine can lead to inflammation-induced bone growth in the area. This extra bone may decrease spacing between joints, leading to nerve impingement or irritation.

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease: Because the spinal discs are primarily water, it is possible for them to lose hydration throughout the lifespan. When this occurs, the disc becomes thinner and no longer functions optimally. This may place excessive pressure on the nerve root, resulting in pain and irritation.
Herniated Disc: A herniated cervical disc can easily irritate a nerve root. Each spinal disc contains gelatinous material that may leak out if the disc’s outer layer becomes compromised. This leakage can cause inflammation and pain that may radiate through the shoulder and down the arm.
Cervical Foraminal Stenosis: The foramen is a small hole located within the vertebrae. This small hole may narrow due to bone spurs or a herniated disk. When this occurs, abnormal pressure is placed on the nerve root passing through the hole. This results in pain that may progress over time and may be specifically related to certain activities or movements.

To avoid the possibility of nerve damage or neuropathy, it is imperative to discuss these symptoms with a qualified medical professional. If left untreated, cervical nerve issues may become progressively worse, making it imperative to recognize and treat the condition while it’s still in its early stages. Marc Cohen and the spine experts at the Spine Institute have experience helping the people of the New Jersey area alleviate back pain through patient-specific methods. Contact the Spine Institute at one of our many locations to schedule your appointment today.