2 Your Health: The Conservative Management of Neck and Shoulder Pain

Dr. Craig W. Brue

Dr. Eric Ricchette, an orthopedic shoulder specialist with the Cleveland Clinic, states that, “Neck and shoulder pain so commonly overlaps that some refer to it as ‘schneck’ pain.” Why? Because the neck and shoulder are intimately controlled by a common branch of nerves called the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus of nerves radiates from the lower cervical spine into the shoulder/arm complex, controlling your shoulder and arm’s ability to function.

What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain?

The most common cause of neck and shoulder pain is an injury to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support these structures. Some of the more common conditions or injuries affecting the neck and shoulder include the following conditions.

Degenerative arthritis: Perhaps the most common condition that affects the neck is disc degeneration and osteoarthritis. In the senior population, it is common to see advanced degenerative changes of the cervical vertebrae and discs with an x-ray study. These changes are often the result of an injury that happened 30-50 years ago. When vertebra get misaligned and discs degenerate, nerves get pinched, irritated, and damaged. A pinched nerve in the cervical spine will often cause a radiating pain that goes from the neck into the shoulder.

Trauma: Neck and shoulder pain may be the result of previous collar bone fractures, rotator cuff injuries, shoulder separations, and bursitis. Some of the more common injuries to the neck include whiplash, wrestling, football, gymnastics, and diving. It often takes many years for osteoarthritic and degenerative changes to show up on an x-ray study. It is very typical that the underlying condition has been there for many years. The current problem is often “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” When a new injury is superimposed over an already degenerated cervical spine, the aggravation may cause significant pain and impairment.

How do I know if the pain is coming from my neck or my shoulder?

Perhaps the simplest answer to this question is for you to move your neck. Does the pain that you experience in your shoulder area increase when you move your head? If so, the problem is generally associated with your neck. Likewise, if you keep your head still and only move your shoulder, does the pain increase with shoulder movements? If so, the problem is probably your shoulder.

How can a chiropractor help neck and shoulder pain?

If your pain originates from the cervical spine, conservative chiropractic care may be your best option for treatment. A chiropractor gets to the source of the problem because shoulder pain is often associated with a pinched or irritated nerve from spinal misalignment. With a significant loss of shoulder function, an orthopedic referral will be recommended. A comprehensive chiropractic evaluation will quickly determine both the cause and solution for the neck and shoulder impairment.

Dr. Craig Brue is an author, lecturer, and chiropractic provider in SaddleBrooke, Ariz. For more information on chiropractic, go to bruechiropractic.com.