What are the Most Common Causes of Shoulder and Neck Pain?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2018
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Like pains in most other parts of the body, shoulder and neck pain are most often caused by muscle strains or injuries resulting from direct trauma. Whiplash, in which the neck and head are thrust forward or backward suddenly, leading to muscle strains, is common after an automobile accident or during athletic activities. Other activities in which the shoulders, neck, or head are moved violently or in an awkward and unnatural direction can lead to shoulder and neck pain. More serious issues, such as a broken or fractured bone, a heart attack, arthritis, or spinal compression and herniation can lead to shoulder and neck pain as well.

The muscles in the neck and shoulders can become strained like any other muscle in the body. When a strain occurs, the small fibers that make up the muscle tear slightly, leading to shoulder and neck pain. This pain can vary in intensity depending on the severity of the strain as well as the location of the strained muscle. If the muscle completely ruptures — that is, the muscle separates completely from itself — surgery may be necessary, and the amount of pain the sufferer will feel will be considerably worse than a minor strain. Most muscle strains that cause shoulder and neck pain can be treated with rest, ice, and compression.


Spinal compression can also lead to shoulder and neck pain. As the spine compresses due to physical activity or the natural effects of gravity, nerves that run between the vertebrae of the spine can become compressed as well. This compression may lead to pain or discomfort in the area that nerve services. A herniated disc in the spine may also lead to such nerve pain; this occurs when the gel-like fluid between vertebrae, known as a spinal disc, ruptures and puts pressure on the nerve.

More serious issues, such as bone breaks, will need treatment from a doctor. The pain in the shoulder and neck will be intense, and the bone will need to be assessed by a professional to determine the best course of treatment. One of the symptoms of a heart attack is pain in the shoulder and neck, and this condition will require immediate attention, as it is potentially fatal. Arthritis occurs when the ligaments that connect joints begin to wear out, allowing bones to press against each other and against nerves in that joint. Arthritis is generally treated with medication, exercise, and stretching.



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