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.

When should I seek medical care for shoulder or neck pain?

If pain or other symptoms start to worsen, call your doctor or immediately go to a hospital emergency department.

  • For milder cases, basic home-care measures (see below) are adequate until your doctor can see you.
  • In many cases, simple injuries, such as strains and bruises, heal themselves and do not require an office visit.
  • For persisting pain in the shoulder or neck, an evaluation by a health-care professional is appropriate.
  • If you have severe or worsening pain, weakness, numbness, coolness, deformity, or color changes, you should go to a hospital emergency department immediately.
  • If you develop a high fever (temperature < 102.5 F), severe headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or sweatiness, or if you develop the sudden onset of numbness or weakness, particularly on one side of the body, call 911 for emergency services to go to the nearest emergency department by ambulance.

What specialists treat shoulder and neck pain?

Shoulder and neck pain is treated by primary-care physicians, including general practitioners, internists, and family medicine doctors, as well as orthopedists, neurosurgeons, rheumatologists, neurologists, and physiatrists. Ancillary health-care professionals who treat shoulder and neck pain include physical therapists and chiropractors.

How do health-care professionals diagnose shoulder and neck pain?

A thorough history and physical examination are usually adequate to establish the diagnosis for most injuries. However, your doctor may do a series of tests, depending on the cause of your injury, the location of your pain, or your other symptoms. The list is extensive and may include X-rays, an electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests, and CT scans.

  • X-rays: These may be done if you have tenderness to touch along the bony areas of your spine or shoulder, a history of significant trauma, deformity of the area, or your doctor suspects a condition related to your heart or lungs.
  • ECG: An electrocardiogram may be ordered if you also have chest pain, shortness of breath, and risk factors for a heart attack (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or tobacco use).
  • Blood tests: These may be performed if you also have chest pain, shortness of breath, and risk factors for a heart attack (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or tobacco use) or if your doctor suspects an underlying illness as the cause of the pain.
  • CT scan: This may be performed when X-rays are difficult to read or suggest a fracture, when more detail is needed, or when other structures are suspected to be the source of the pain (possibly the large artery known as the aorta leading from the heart or the lungs).
  • MRI: An MRI is often not indicated during an initial evaluation but can be helpful in assessing ongoing pain and failure to respond to basic treatment measures.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2016

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