Shoulder and Neck Pain

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Neck pain

Neck Pain Causes

What are causes and risk factors for neck pain?

Pain located in the neck is a common medical condition. Neck pain can come from a number of disorders and diseases and can involve any of the tissues in the neck. Examples of common conditions causing neck pain are degenerative disc disease, neck strain, neck injury such as in whiplash, a herniated disc, or a pinched nerve. Neck pain can come from common infections, such as virus infection of the throat, leading to lymph node (gland) swelling and neck pain.

What is shoulder and neck pain?

Your neck and shoulders contain muscles, bones, nerves, arteries, and veins, as well as many ligaments and other supporting structures.Many conditions can cause pain in the neck and shoulder area. Some are life-threatening (such as heart attack and major trauma), and others are not so dangerous (such as simple strains or contusions).

What causes shoulder and neck pain?

  • The most common cause of shoulder pain and neck pain is injury to the soft tissues, including the muscles, tendons, and ligaments within these structures. This can occur from whiplash or other injury to these areas. Degenerative arthritis of the spine in the neck (cervical spine) can pinch nerves that can cause both neck pain and shoulder pain. Degenerative disc disease in the neck (cervical spondylosis) can cause local neck pain or radiating pain from disc herniation, causing pinching of nerves (cervical radiculopathy). Abnormal conditions involving the spinal cord, heart, lungs, and some abdominal organs also can cause neck and shoulder pain. Here are some examples:
  • Broken collarbone: Falling on your outstretched arm can cause your collarbone to break. This is particularly common when cyclers fall off of their bicycles.
  • Bursitis: A bursa is a sac over the joints to provide a cushion to the joints and muscles. These bursae can become swollen, stiff, and painful after injuries.
  • Heart attacks: Although the problem is the heart, heart attacks can cause shoulder or neck pain, known as "referred" pain.
  • Broken shoulder blade: An injury to the shoulder blade usually is associated with relatively forceful trauma.
  • Rotator cuff injuries: The rotator cuff is a group of tendons that support the shoulder. These tendons can be injured during lifting, when playing sports with a lot of throwing, or after repetitive use over a long time. This can lead to pain with motion of the shoulder due to shoulder impingement syndrome and eventually to a chronic loss of range of motion of the shoulder (frozen shoulder).
  • Shoulder or A-C separation: The collarbone (clavicle) and shoulder blade (scapula) are connected by ligaments. With trauma to the shoulder, these ligaments can be stretched or torn.
  • Whiplash injury: Injury to the ligamentous and muscular structures of the neck and shoulder can be caused by sudden acceleration or deceleration, as in a car accident. This can also cause muscle spasms in the neck and shoulder areas.
  • Tendonitis: The tendons connect the muscles to the bones. With strain, the tendons can become swollen and cause pain. This is also referred to as tendinitis.
  • Gallbladder disease: This can cause a pain referred to the right shoulder.
  • Any cause of inflammation under the diaphragm can also cause referred pain in the shoulder.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/22/2016

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