Is My Pain Coming From My Shoulder Or From My Neck?

Determining whether the pain in your shoulder is originating from your shoulder itself or your neck can be challenging because the two areas are closely connected and share nerve pathways. However, there are some signs and methods you can use to help differentiate between shoulder pain and neck pain:

  1. Location of pain:
    – Shoulder Pain: Typically, pain originating from the shoulder will be localized in the shoulder area itself. It may be felt in the front, back, or top of the shoulder.  Most shoulder pain is located in the front or side of the shoulder.  Pain in the shoulder blade can be referred from the neck.
    – Neck Pain: Neck pain is usually centered in the neck region, often at the base of the neck, along the sides, or at the back of the neck.  When this radiates to the shoulder it is more likely along the medial aspect of the shoulder blade and then radiates to the shoulder.  
  2. Range of motion:
    – Shoulder Pain: If the pain worsens or is particularly noticeable when you move your shoulder joint (e.g., raising your arm or rotating it), it’s more likely to be shoulder-related.
    – Neck Pain: If the pain worsens or is aggravated when you move your neck (e.g., turning your head or tilting it), it’s more likely to be neck-related.
  3. Radiation of pain:
    – Shoulder Pain: Shoulder pain may radiate down the arm, especially towards the upper arm or upper back but usually not beyond the elbow.
    – Neck Pain: Neck pain may radiate up into the head, down into the upper back, and sometimes into the shoulder blades.  
  4. Associated symptoms:
    – Shoulder Pain: Shoulder pain may be accompanied by weakness or limited mobility in the arm or shoulder joint.}
    – Neck Pain: Neck pain may be associated with stiffness, headaches, and pain, numbness or tingling that radiates into the arms or hands.
  5. Triggers and aggravating factors:
    – Shoulder Pain: Activities that involve the use of your shoulder, such as lifting heavy objects or reaching overhead, may worsen shoulder pain.
    – Neck Pain: Poor posture, neck strain, or looking down for extended periods (such as when using a computer or smartphone) may exacerbate neck pain.
  6. Physical examination:
    Consult with a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or physical therapist. They can perform a physical examination to assess your shoulder and neck function and help determine the source of your pain.

If you are unsure about the cause of your pain or if it persists or worsens, it’s essential to seek medical advice. At Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine we have providers that can perform a thorough evaluation, potentially including imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans, to diagnose the underlying issue and recommend appropriate treatment, which may include physical therapy, medications, or other interventions.

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