Painful Shoulder: Is It Really Shoulder Pain?

David Pope, a physiotherapist shared his knowledge about hidden causes of shoulder pain through his post in a BMJ blog. On this blog post, we will learn that shoulder pain may not be a simple problem because the shoulder joint itself is a complex structure.

Shoulder Pain Symptoms and Their Hidden Clues

Let’s take a closer look at each symptom and the explanation behind. Here are some of them:

Pain in the neck that radiates across into the shoulder

This kind of pain can be somewhat unreliable. It may be your neck or your shoulder, or both, which is in pain. Neck and shoulder pain overlap a lot that some call it ‘shneck pain’. Their nerve pathways are connected, making it difficult to tell which of them is really affected.

Pain near the shoulder

For example, there is pain in the upper trapezius as well as into the shoulder. The trapezius is one of the major muscles of the back and is responsible for moving, rotating, and stabilising the shoulder blade and extending the head at the neck.

Pain radiating below the elbow, and potentially in the front and back

Spine injuries may be possible. In here, pain from the cervical spine can irritate the nerves due to compression of these nerves or the nerve root, or both. The nerves servicing the arm can be affected and cause pain around the elbow joint.

Pins and needles or numbness in the arm or hand

This symptom can be caused by a compressed and irritated nerve. The nerves that travel down your arms stem out of your neck and spine. The areas which these nerves serve, in this case the arm or hand, becomes compromised. Some nerves carry sensory information, which can cause pins and needles, tingling and strange sensations if these are compressed. Other nerves carry motor information, which causes weakness of muscles and sometimes, problems with coordination and movement.

Pain occurring on different body parts at the same time

For example, neck pain occurs and worsens then shoulder pain occurs, or vice versa. The trapezius muscle covers a large portion of the back of the neck, back of the shoulder and upper to mid back. It connects the skull, neck vertebra, upper and mid back vertebra to the shoulder blade and shoulder joint. If a couple of body parts in this region are in pain, it might be that the trapezius muscle is affected.

Vague pain in the shoulder

Not a specific pain, for example over a rotator cuff muscle or biceps tendon, is often a vague pain. It may move around, sometimes in front or in back. It may also have a feeling of a dead arm, or a position in range where suddenly it just feels weak.

Keep in mind that these clues do not define the exact cause of the problem. However, it can be a guide within the patients’ subjective examination. Most of all, it may not always be a good idea to self treat your pain – especially that your body structure is more complicated than you think.

See a physiotherapist for a thorough objective examination. It is important to discover referred pain to the shoulder and the underlying cause of symptoms. An accurate diagnosis from your physiotherapist can help determine the most appropriate treatment. It will target treatment at the referring structures, helping you with the improvement of your shoulder pain, range of movement and function.

Our Perth physiotherapists can help with shoulder pain. Call Happy Physio at 9272 7359 today!