Shoulder pain is a common complaint that affects many patients coming to the clinic. While many factors can contribute to shoulder pain, one often overlooked area is the relationship between the neck and mid-back (thoracic spine). The intricate interplay between these regions can have a significant impact on shoulder function and therefore be a main contributor to shoulder pain. In this blog post, we will explore the connection between shoulder pain and the neck-thoracic spine, helping you understand the causes, symptoms, and potential treatment options to alleviate your discomfort.
Let’s first start by having a look at some of the anatomy and function of the neck and thoracic spine. The neck consists of seven vertebrae, while the thoracic spine comprises twelve vertebrae. Their function and movement are dependent on each other and are arguably one of the most stressed regions in our body due to chronic sitting, computer work and cell phones. These two regions play a vital role in supporting the upper body and facilitating movement.
The neck and thoracic spine provide stability and mobility for the shoulders. Many of the muscles that control the shoulder have origins in these parts of our spines. Moreover, the nerves that innervate the shoulder muscles originate from the neck and travel through the thoracic spine to get to the shoulders. Any dysfunction or misalignment in these regions can lead to shoulder pain and potentially impact the shoulder’s normal range of motion.
Common Causes of Shoulder Pain:
Poor Posture: Maintaining a slouched posture or spending prolonged hours hunched over a desk can strain the muscles and ligaments in the neck and thoracic spine, leading to shoulder pain and shoulder dysfunction.
Cervical Disc Herniation: A herniated disc in the neck can compress the nerves that supply the shoulder, resulting in radiating pain and weakness.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: This condition occurs when the nerves and blood vessels passing through the thoracic outlet, an area located just behind your collar bone, become compressed or irritated. It can cause shoulder pain, tingling, and numbness in the arms and hands.
Muscle Imbalances: Muscular imbalances in the neck and upper back, such as weak muscles or tightness, can alter shoulder mechanics and contribute to pain.
Shoulder pain originating from the neck and thoracic spine may present with various symptoms, including:
Dull, aching shoulder pain
Radiating pain down the arm
Stiffness or limited range of motion in the shoulder
Muscle weakness or fatigue
Tingling or numbness in the arm or hand
It is important here to get a proper diagnosis of all the contributing factors that are leading to your shoulder pain or disfunction. A practitioner should be looking at both the neck and thoracic spine to determine the root cause of the shoulder pain. Having a rotator cuff injury for example, is often secondary to disfunction in the neck and thoracic spine.
Some of the best known treatment options include:
Chiropractic Care: A chiropractor can perform spinal adjustments to restore function the neck and thoracic spine, reducing nerve irritation and promoting optimal shoulder function.
Physical Therapy: Targeted exercises and stretches prescribed by a physical therapist can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the neck and thoracic spine, improving posture and relieving shoulder pain.
Posture Correction: Paying attention to your posture and making necessary adjustments, such as maintaining an ergonomic workspace and engaging in regular breaks to stretch, can alleviate stress on the neck and thoracic spine.
Massage Therapy: a Registered Massage Therapist can help reduce tension in the aggravated muscles and help restore balance in the complex shoulder girdle.
Cold Therapy: Applying cold packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and provide temporary pain relief.
Shoulder pain related to the neck and thoracic spine can significantly impact your daily life and functionality. By understanding the connection between these areas, recognizing the common causes, and exploring treatment options, you can take proactive steps to manage and alleviate shoulder pain. Remember to seek professional advice and guidance to ensure a comprehensive and effective approach to your shoulder pain relief journey. At Coastal Life Wellness we have a great team of evidence-based practitioners that are here to help and work together to address all your health needs. Prioritize your health and well-being, and regain the freedom to move without discomfort.
Dr. Alfredo is a health enthusiast who’s goal is to help people and families live healthier, happier lives. My philosophy on health is simple - our body’s have the amazing ability and potential to self-adapt, self-regulate and THRIVE in this world.