The neck and shoulders are connected through a series of nerves, soft tissues, and bones. Each area is pretty complex on its own, so when pain occurs in both the neck and the shoulder simultaneously, finding the cause may take a bit of investigative work.
Shoulder Pain May Originate in the Neck
Upper body pain may stem from a number of conditions, including poor posture, soft tissue damage following an accident, a herniated or degenerated disc, or spinal arthritis. There is also a possibility that a cyst, tumor or other spinal lesion may have developed, though this is far less common than other conditions.
Neck Problems That Cause Shoulder Pain
The neck is also called the cervical spine. This segment of the spinal column has seven vertebrae, or bones. These bones are fairly mobile and are stabilized by ligaments and muscles. In between each set of vertebrae is a disc that prevents the bones from rubbing against one another. Because this spinal segment has so many moving parts, there is a susceptibility to degeneration and injury.
When the cervical spine is compromised in any way, the nerves that exit this region may send pain signals to their designated body part. Shoulder pain that stems from the cervical spine is often related to a condition called cervical radiculopathy. This condition may occur when a disc becomes herniated or when a bone spur or cyst develops. Any of these factors could press on a nerve root that leaves the spinal and travels elsewhere. Cervical radiculopathy often does cause shoulder pain, but it may initially present as a “pins and needles” sensation, weakness, or numbness in the shoulder or arm.
Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy may occur secondary to neck arthritis, in which a bone spur or spurs may develop close to a nerve root. Bone spurs generally do not develop right away; they are a later-stage aspect of arthritis that may be referred to as spinal stenosis.
One of the first problems that usually occurs in the spine is degeneration within the discs and disc space. This condition, called degenerative disc disease, is a precursor to neck arthritis and involves mild to moderate wear and tear to the spine. Degenerative disc disease is characterized by changes to the discs that make them weaker and less capable of absorbing the shock of physical movement. Weakened discs may eventually bulge or herniate, which could also lead to bone spurs.
Patients with ongoing neck pain despite conservative therapies may benefit from spinal surgery. Dr. Albert has treated many patients in our NYC center, enabling them to regain an optimal quality of life. To learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of persistent neck pain, contact us at 212-606-1004.