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Neck and shoulder pain can be classified in many different ways. Some people experience only neck pain or only shoulder pain, while others experience pain in both areas.
What causes neck pain?
Causes of neck pain include abnormalities in the bone or joints, trauma, poor posture, degenerative diseases, and tumors. Pain in the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) is the most common cause of neck pain and usually occurs as a result of an acute or a chronic muscle strain. The neck is very mobile, which means it is less stable than other areas of the body and more easily injured.
What causes shoulder pain?
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint with a large range of movement. Such a mobile joint tends to be more susceptible to injury. Shoulder pain can stem from one or more of the following causes:
Strains from overexertion
Tendinitis from overuse
Shoulder joint instability
Collar or upper arm bone fractures
Pinched nerves (also called radiculopathy)
How are neck and shoulder pain diagnosed?
X-rays can be helpful in diagnosing neck and shoulder pain. Plain X-rays can reveal disc space narrowing, rheumatologic disease, destructive lesions, slippage, stenosis, fractures, and instability with flexion-extension views.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive procedure that can reveal the detail of neural (nerve-related) elements.
Myelography/CT scanning is sometimes used as an alternative to MRI.
Electrodiagnostic studies—electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV)—also might aid in the diagnosis of neck and shoulder pain, arm pain, numbness, and tingling.
How are neck and shoulder pain treated?
The treatment of soft tissue neck and shoulder pain includes the use of anti-inflammatory medicine and/or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®). Pain also might be treated with a local application of moist heat or ice. A local corticosteroid injection is often helpful for arthritis of the shoulder. For both neck and shoulder pain movement exercises can have positive results. For cases in which nerve roots or the spinal cord are involved, surgical procedures might be necessary.
Definition: Neck and Shoulder Pain
Neck pain is a common complaint. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture — whether it’s leaning over your computer or hunching over your workbench. Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.
Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care if your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you have shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm.
Symptoms: Neck and Shoulder Pain
Pain that’s often worsened by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
– Muscle tightness and spasms
– Decreased ability to move your head
When to see a doctor
Most neck pain improves gradually with home treatment. If not, see your doctor.
Seek immediate care if severe neck pain results from an injury, such as a motor vehicle accident, diving accident or fall.
Contact a doctor if your neck pain:
– Is severe
– Persists for several days without relief
– Spreads down arms or legs
– Is accompanied by headache, numbness, weakness or tingling