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What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain?

What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain?

What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain, and How Can I Treat It?

Pain in the neck and shoulder at the same time is common and is usually caused by a strain or sprain.

The following symptoms might range from mild to severe pain:

  • Tingling
  • Shooting pain
  • Stiffness
  • Numbness
  • Spasms
  • Soreness

Neck and shoulder pain can sometimes be an indication of a heart attack or stroke. These are life-threatening medical situations that demand immediate medical care.

Gallstones and some cancers can cause it in rare cases.

Diagnosis of Neck and Shoulder Pain

A doctor will evaluate you physically and take your medical history. They’ll want to know when the pain began and what symptoms you’re experiencing.

To pinpoint the source of the pain, the examination may include an arm squeeze test.

They can also ask you to move your arms, shoulders, and neck to determine your range of motion. Additional tests may be ordered by the doctor to diagnose the problem.

Other tests to consider are:

  • Testing of blood
  • X-rays
  • Electromyography (EMG), employs electrodes to assess the electrical activity of your muscle tissue.

If the doctor suspects an infection, a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) may be ordered.

What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain?

Sprains and strains from sports, overexertion and poor posture are the most common causes of neck and shoulder pain.

Injuries to soft tissues

Soft tissue injuries are common causes of neck and shoulder pain. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are examples of soft tissue. It’s called that to distinguish it from bone and cartilage hard tissue.

Soft tissue injuries can result in a variety of symptoms, including:

Torn rotator cuff

The rotator cuff is a collection of four tendons that connect the upper arm (humerus) to the shoulder blade.

A rotator cuff rupture can result from a single accident (such as a fall) or through prolonged stress, which is frequent in sports that involve a lot of arm and shoulder movement.

Rotator cuff tears can also be caused by ageing. The body’s natural ability to repair damage might be slowed by a lack of blood supply. Furthermore, bone spurs can grow at the joint, causing the rotator cuff tendons to be damaged.

An abrupt tear will usually result in severe shoulder discomfort and immediate upper arm weakness.

Repetitive use can cause tears that can lead to shoulder pain and arm weakening over time. Combing your hair, for example, is an activity that requires reaching up or behind you.


Whiplash is caused by a quick movement of your neck damaging your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It usually happens in a car accident.

Other common reasons are:

  • Sports involving contact
  • Being shook
  • Falls
  • A knock on the head

Symptoms might take up to 24 hours to manifest and include:

  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Eyesight problems
  • Constant tiredness

Most patients recover completely within three months, but some people may suffer from chronic pain and headaches for years.

Cervical Osteoarthritis (Cervical Spondylosis)

The age-related wear of your neck’s spinal discs is known as cervical spondylosis. It’s a highly common illness that affects over 85% of adults over the age of 60.

The vertebrae are bone parts that make up your spine. Discs are soft materials that sit between each vertebra.

Your discs lose water content and stiffen as you get older. Your vertebrae close in on each other. In a condition known as cervical osteoarthritis, this might irritate the joint lining.

Bone spurs are a common complication of arthritis.

Neck discomfort and stiffness are common symptoms of cervical osteoarthritis. It can cause a pinched nerve in more severe situations.

Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched nerve)

The pain from a pinched nerve in your neck might radiate to your shoulder. Cervical radiculopathy is another name for this condition.

Cervical radiculopathy is caused by changes in your spine as a result of ageing or injury.

Nerves that flow through the hollow space in the vertebrae might be pinched by bone spurs. A pinched nerve can result if this happens in your neck.

Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers or hand
  • Muscular weakness in your arm, shoulder, or hand

Herniated disc

When cervical discs shrink, the vertebrae become closer together, which can cause damage to one or more of the discs.

A slid, herniated, or prolapsed disc occurs when the soft inner section of the disc protrudes through its harder outer.

A slipped or herniated disc might cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Aching
  • A burning sensation in the back of your neck

Posture and sleeping position

Long periods of holding your neck in an unnatural position can cause strains in the muscles and tendons of your neck and shoulders.

The following are some of the postures and activities that typically cause neck and shoulder pain:

  • Sleeping on a cushion that is too high or a stack of pillows
  • Teeth grinding or clenching at night
  • Sitting with your neck pulled forward or tilted forward at a computer or on the phone
  • Jolting your neck suddenly during a workout

Heart attack

Discomfort and numbness in the neck, back, or jaw are also indications of a heart attack, as an abrupt pain in the chest or arms.


If you have abrupt pain in your neck, back, or jaw that comes on suddenly and without trauma, call 999 or go to the local hospital.

Stable angina

Stable angina can also cause pain in the shoulders, neck, back, or jaw. It happens when the coronary arteries narrow and the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen.

Pain in the centre of the chest is common, but it can also affect the left arm, shoulders, neck, back, and jaw.

It must be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Stroke or cervical artery dissection

Cervical artery dissection is a dangerous type of stroke that can cause neck pain. Although this illness is uncommon, it is one of the leading causes of stroke in those under the age of 50.

A stroke can cause the following symptoms:

  • Drooping of the face
  • Numbness and weakness in the arms
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Vision issues
  • Walking difficulties


If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 999 or go to the local hospital.

Broken collarbone (clavicle)

The collarbone (clavicle) is a gently curved bone that extends from your shoulder blades to your rib cage at the top of your chest.

When you fall on your outstretched arm, clavicle fractures are common.

The following are symptoms of a shattered clavicle:

  • Severe pain
  • Being unable to lift your arm
  • A droopy shoulder
  • Tenderness, bruising, and swelling

Broken shoulder blade (scapula)

The scapula (shoulder blade) is a big triangular bone that links your upper arm and collarbone.

Scapula fractures are common in high-impact injuries like a motorcycle or car accidents.

Intense discomfort when moving your arm and swelling at the back of your shoulder are common symptoms.

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder is a syndrome in which moving your shoulder becomes more difficult and uncomfortable. People between the ages of 40 and 60, as well as those with diabetes, are the most vulnerable.

The reason behind this is unknown.

A dull or agonising discomfort over the outer shoulder and sometimes the upper arm is the most common sign of a frozen shoulder.


Persistent neck pain might be a sign of head or neck cancer in some circumstances.

Excessive drinking and cigarette use are the leading causes of head and neck cancer. Around 75% of instances fall into this category.

Lung cancer can also cause referred discomfort in the shoulder.

Shoulder tendonitis or bursitis

Tendons are tough fibres that connect muscles to bones. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that protect joints from friction.

Shoulder pain is commonly caused by inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis) and bursa (bursitis), however, pain can occur everywhere inflammation occurs.

Inflammation of the tendons and bursa surrounding your rotator cuff is extremely common, causing discomfort and stiffness in your shoulder.

Shoulder separation

A shoulder separation is an injury to the joint where the collarbone meets the shoulder blade’s highest point (acromion). The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is the name of the joint.

When you fall straight on your shoulder, the AC joint is usually injured. The severity of the injury can range from a slight sprain to a full separation with a huge hump or bulge visible above the shoulder.

Pain in the surrounding areas is possible.

Shoulder and neck referred pain

Shoulder and neck pain are frequently confused due to the near proximity of the nerves that serve them.

Pain in your shoulder could be caused by a problem in your neck and vice versa. Referred pain is the term for this.

The following are some of the signs and symptoms of neck referred pain:

  • Pain that stabs, burns, or tingles like electricity
  • Ache to radiate from your shoulder blade through your elbow to your hand
  • When you twist your neck, pain radiates down your arm.
  • When you support your neck, it relieves pain.

Gallstones or enlarged gallbladder

A gallstone plugging a duct in your gallbladder might cause pain in your right shoulder. You may also experience soreness between your shoulder blades in your back. The pain could be abrupt and intense.

The more prevalent symptoms of gallstones or gallbladder inflammation may or may not be present. These are they:

  • Unexpected discomfort in the upper right abdomen
  • Ache in the centre of your belly, just below the breastbone
  • Vomiting or nausea

Pain on one side of the neck and shoulder pain

One side of the neck is commonly affected. This is frequently caused by strains or sprains on that side, or by sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

People who are right-handed are more likely to strain their right neck or shoulder.

Gallstones or an inflamed gallbladder can cause pain in the right shoulder in particular.

Neck and Shoulder Pain with headache

Strain headaches are frequently caused by muscle tension in the neck.

Cervicogenic headache is a specific type of transferred pain.

Cervicogenic headaches can mimic migraine symptoms. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • One side of your head or face hurts
  • After specific neck movements, stiff neck and headache
  • A throbbing sensation around your eyes

When to call a doctor

Consult a doctor if:

  • You have a limited range of motion.
  • You’re in a lot of pain.
  • You think you’re experiencing a medical emergency

It’s possible you’ve torn a muscle or tendon, or you’ve got something more serious that requires quick attention.

If the pain persists, intensifies, or returns after it has improved, you should consult a doctor.

Treating neck and shoulder pain

The underlying cause of neck and shoulder discomfort determines how to treat it.

Emergency treatment for heart attacks, strokes, and other critical diseases is common. Most other problems will improve with home remedies, physical therapy, and massage.

The following are some of the more serious conditions that may necessitate surgical intervention:


In the case of fractures of the shoulder blade or collarbone, arm slings are the first line of therapy to maintain your arm and shoulder in place while the injury heals.

If surgery is required, the basic method involves reattaching the broken ends of the bone and fixing them in place to keep them from moving while they recover.

Anaesthesia may be required for the implantation of plates and screws.

Rotator cuff tear

For roughly 80% of persons with rotator cuff injuries, nonsurgical therapies are beneficial.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if you have considerable shoulder weakness and your symptoms have lasted 6 to 12 months.

The damaged tendons are routinely reattached to the upper arm bone after surgery for a torn rotator cuff.

Preventing neck and shoulder pain

Neck and shoulder pain can be avoided by sitting and walking with proper posture and modifying your daily activities to avoid stress on your neck and shoulders.

Practice good posture

To check your posture, do the following:

  • Face the wall with your back to it. Face the wall with your shoulders, hips, and heels.
  • Move your palms up and down against the wall as high as you can.
  • Walk forward after 10 repetitions.
  • This should make it easier for you to stand and sit straight.


Exercise and Stretch

Make a stretching programme that will help you relax your neck, shoulders, and back. Use the exercises listed above or consult your physician. They might be able to share printouts with you.

When exercising, it’s critical to maintain proper form to avoid pulling or straining a muscle, tendon, or ligament.

Move around

If you’re sitting all day, get up and move around every 30 minutes.

Workplace changes

Neck and shoulder strain can be caused by repetitive tasks. When these activities are unavoidable, seek assistance to reduce stress.

To break poor habits, follow these workplace ergonomic tips:

  • Get a headset if you spend a lot of time on the phone. Do not support the phone with your neck and shoulders.
  • Sit in a chair that provides adequate support.
  • Take plenty of breaks.


Strains and sprains from overexertion or poor posture are the most common causes of neck and shoulder pain.

This pain may go away on its own at times. Pain can also be relieved by stretching and strengthening activities.

A fracture in the bones of your shoulder can cause neck and shoulder pain. The intensity of the pain will usually signal that you should seek medical attention.

It can be referred pain from causes like gallstones or cancer in extremely rare circumstances.

Heart attack and stroke are two emergency diseases that can cause acute neck and shoulder pain. These must be handled right away.