Shoulder pain is almost always linked to some degree of discomfort or dysfunction in the neck as well. This region of the human body has a high concentration of muscles, ligaments, tendons, complex bone structures, nerves, arteries, and veins and so is subject to a number of potential problems.
The most common causes of pain are injuries to one or more of these structures, most commonly the soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons. Degenerative arthritis in the spine is also a major culprit, as is degenerative disk disease in the neck. Common injuries include, but are not limited to:
- Broken collarbone
- Broken shoulder blade
- Rotator cuff damage
- Shoulder or A-C separation
- Cervical pinched nerve
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Frozen Shoulder
Other, more serious conditions can also be at the root of shoulder pain including heart attack, gallbladder disease, and inflammation under the diaphragm.
Pain in the shoulder and surrounding region can range widely in intensity from dull to sharp and burning. Some patients refer to a sensation of cramping or even sudden shock-like events. The exact nature of the pain offers important clues to physicians as they begin the process of diagnosing the underlying cause of the discomfort.
Other sensations include, but are not limited to, numbness, abnormal temperature (both heat and cold), color changes (a bluish or whitish tint indicating interrupted blood flow), swelling, and any other deformity that might result from abnormal positioning.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Most patients will initially try to address shoulder pain with activity modification or over the counter analgesics. If the pain persists, however, a doctor should be consulted. Normally an array of tests will be used in concert with a medical history to arrive at a diagnosis. These tests may include MRI scans and X rays.
If the injury is relative to a deep strain or bruise, nothing more than rest may be required. If ligaments or tendons are damaged or torn, surgery may be required. Every case is different and thus treatment can run the gamut of strategies including the use of pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, immobilization, physical therapy, injections, and surgery among others.
Even in cases where surgical repairs are required, most neck and shoulder issues can be successfully treated with full recovery or with only minor limitations to the patient’s flexibility and mobility. It is important, however, to seek treatment early in the condition as damage can be cumulative and more serious over time.