Neck and Shoulder Pain Causes

Where neck and shoulder pain exist as part of an increasing systemic pain profile, with sleep disruption, altered mood or cognition, and fatigue it is possible that they are symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome. This condition, the cause of which remains largely unknown, often occurs with acute and chronic stress and is difficult to treat without addressing this underlying stress. Over time, those with fibromyalgia have been found to develop fatty tissue in the shoulders where muscle should be and this can reduce strength and mobility as well as increase pain signals through the adipose tissue. Fibromyalgia sufferers have a number of trigger points which cause extreme pain when pressed, often even when lightly touched, and these can help a doctor identify the disease. Neck and shoulder pain may simply be due to a strain or acute stress causing tension in the muscles in the neck and upper back, but where it becomes chronic it requires further investigation.

Neck and Shoulder Anatomy

The area of the neck and shoulder is called the brachial plexus and this can be damaged at birth if a baby becomes stuck during delivery and is forcibly pulled from the birth canal. Congenital defects in the brachial plexus may also lead to neck and shoulder pain, as can chronic microtrauma in childhood leading to inflammation in the area. Signs of brachial plexopathy include a visible disparity between the size of one arm and the other, a cold hand on one side only, and radicular pain in the arm, amongst other things. These symptoms are particularly pronounced when the sufferer tries to raise their arm above shoulder height and some people may not be able to perform this seemingly simple act due to a compressed brachial plexus. Problems may also occur with drainage of the lymph in the axilla, neck, and chest with infections possible.

Neck and Shoulder Pain from Pinched Nerve and Injuries

Neck and shoulder pain can occur, therefore, with compression of the nerves and blood vessels due to disc herniation, spinal curvature, the presence of a cervical rib, acute trauma, and repetitive microtrauma in the shoulder or chest. Brachial plexus injuries are also common in those taking part in sports such as football, and rugby, where the neck may be forced up during a tackle as the chest is pushed downward, thus stretching the brachial plexus. This type of injury is called a burner or a stinger and may actually wrench the nerves out of the cervical spine or sever them somewhere in the shoulder, leading to excruciating neck and shoulder pain followed by numbness, weakness, and possible paralysis of areas of the upper body.

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Last Updated: 04/12/2011