Developing neck and shoulder pain is a fairly common condition and it can happen for a variety of reasons. In many cases, it might be just an annoyance after a trauma or injury. If there’s a simultaneous pain in the neck and shoulder, it’s usually the result of a strain or sprain. However, it can sometimes even indicate a serious health condition, such as coronary artery disease.
Pain typically ranges from mild to severe and may include anything from stiffness, numbness, tingling, and soreness to shooting pain and spasms.
Causes of neck and shoulder pain
If not the result of an injury, typical causes of neck and shoulder pain are cervical spondylosis or arthritis of the neck. As a normal side effect of ageing, the discs and joints located in the neck degenerate, so more than 85% of people over the age of 60 have experienced cervical spondylosis.
Subacromial bursitis is a frequent cause of shoulder pain. It comes from inflamed bursae which are fluid sacs around the joints that help lubricate and enable movement. On the other hand, people can sometimes wake up with feeling soreness in their neck, shoulder, or back. No research so far has studied the relationship between sleep posture and pain, but it’s often advised for patients to modify their sleep posture to see if it would reduce their neck pain. Sleeping positions as well as mattresses and pillows can all cause strain on a person’s neck, shoulder, and spine during sleeping.
Exercises and stretches
People who perform repetitive tasks and experience neck and shoulder pain are advised to take a 5–10-minute break for every 60 minutes of work. Once the pain subsides, you can gently stretch every day. Consult your doctor or a physical therapist about the proper techniques, but always make sure you first warm your neck and back with a warm shower or heating pad. You can start by gently tilting, bending and rotating your neck, and proceed with shoulder shrugs and rolls, head glides and chest stretches.
Massage can also be very helpful in relieving the pain. You can schedule an appointment with a trained practitioner, but you might also try it yourself using a hand-held percussion massager on the sore area which will increase the blood flow and reduce built-up lactic acid easing your muscle fatigue and stiffness.
You might also consider over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and acetaminophen. It can also be helpful to alternate heat and cold to reduce inflammation. You do it by applying an ice pack on the sore spot for about 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, and you can alternate with a warm shower or a heating pad.
If your pain and stiffness persist, you might opt for different forms of therapy. A physical therapist can offer guidance and teach you correct posture, various exercises to help you be more active, use electrical stimulation (TENS) and other methods to help alleviate your pain and prevent its recurrence.
One of the methods is traction which stretches your neck using weights, pulleys or an air bladder. This must be done under the supervision of a medical professional and physical therapist, and it can offer relief of neck pain, particularly that related to nerve root irritation.
Among more invasive approaches are steroid injections and ultimately surgery. Your doctor could inject corticosteroids near the nerve roots, small facet joints in the bones of the cervical spine or into the neck muscles to mitigate your pain. As a final option, there’s surgery that can help relieve nerve root or spinal cord compression.
There are various options available if you’re interested in trying alternative treatments. They can include acupuncture which involves inserting thin needles into different points of your body. For best results, you will need between 5 and 10 sessions. There are also chiropractic treatments which are performed mostly on the spine and involve applying abrupt and controlled force to the joints to adjust them. Performed on the neck, these movements can offer short-term pain relief, and are for the most part, safe.
Neck and shoulder pain affects a large portion of the human population and can be quite debilitating at times preventing you from working efficiently and leading a stress-free life. The methods listed here can be helpful but you should see your doctor if your pain is getting worse, you start feeling numbness and tingling in your arms and legs, you start having difficulties with your bladder or bowel, or you develop a fever.