Your neck is a complex web of nerves, joints, and muscles that attach between, shoulder, thoracic spine, and skull and can contribute to shoulder pain.
If you were hoping for a simple explanation, the neck is not be the place for that.
Each joint of your neck has a nerve responsible for some type of sensation in your arm. Irritation of these nerves can cause pain in your neck, in between your shoulder blades, into your shoulder and elbow, or even your fingertips!
Nerves and shoulder pain
Figuring out where the nerve is getting pinched can be a difficult task. 5 of the nerves that come from your neck combine together to form one big nerve bundle called the brachial plexus. This giant bundle of nerves passes underneath your scalene muscles, over your first rib, underneath your pectoralis minor (small sibling of your big pec muscles). To make things more complicated, it separates into smaller nerves down your arm.
How do nerves become irritated?
Those areas I mentioned can become tight due to prolonged shoulder issues, or posture and can cause pinching of the nerves, and the blood supply of your brachial plexus! This condition is usually termed thoracic outlet syndrome.
A few other signs that suggest nerve irritation:
- numbness and tingling in the shoulder/arm
- weakness in your arm muscles
- pain down the arm with neck movement
Neck muscles and shoulder pain
Another suspect of neck irritation that contributes to shoulder pain are neck muscles. Your trapezius muscle, which runs from the top of your shoulder blade and attaches into your neck on the back of your skull, can contribute to shoulder pain. This muscle is meant to keep everything from your neck to your shoulder stable. But unfortunately due to lots of time watching TV, working at a desk, or generally looking down at our phones, this muscle can get overworked.
This extra work can create trigger points, or muscle knots, that can cause neck pain or even headaches if they get bad enough. There are a few other muscles that can get overworked and refer pain into your shoulders.
The following muscle trigger points can refer pain into your shoulder:
- rotator cuff
- latissimus dorsi
- teres major
Can physical therapy help with neck and shoulder pain?
A PT just so happens to be an expert at relieving trigger points. We patients make sense and control this complex web of symptoms. Take control of your injury, and see a Physical Therapist today! We are currently physical therapists practicing in Columbia, MD.