How to Know If It Is a Shoulder or Neck Injury

Oftentimes patients have a difficult time deciphering whether their pain is a result of a neck injury or a shoulder injury. This is primarily because pain in the neck can radiate into the shoulders (and vice versa) because both the neck and shoulder muscles share the same nerve pathways. Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Brandon Steen explains how to know if your pain is coming from a shoulder or neck injury, and what specialist you need to make an appointment with.

“Some neck conditions can refer pain, numbness, and tingling to the arm making it confusing to know the source of the pain,” explains Dr. Steen, a specialist in shoulder and elbow injuries. “As a general rule, if you turn or move your head and experience pain, you most likely have a neck problem.”

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is an injury to the rotator cuff, a group of tendons and muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint. When the rotator becomes damaged, it causes the body to compensate and use other muscle groups in the shoulder to lift, push or pull objects. This compensation can strain the muscles and result in pain in the area from the top of the shoulder into the neck.

Some of the telltale signs of a rotator cuff tear are:

  • Pain that is more persistent at night
  • Pain that does not extend past the elbow
  • Pain when raising the arm or extending the arm behind your head
  • Strains from overexertion, tendonitis from overuse, shoulder joint instability, dislocation, and frozen shoulder are among the many other causes of shoulder pain.

Common Causes of Neck Pain

Neck injuries are a bit different when it comes to the symptoms. If a spinal disc or bone spur irritates nerves, the pain can radiate into the shoulders or arms, also known as “radiculopathy”. This radiating pain often makes it difficult to determine if the pain is stemming from the neck or the shoulder and should be evaluated by a specialist in our Spine Center.

What Specialist Should I See?

Consider the questions below to determine what specialist to see: 

Do you have numbness/tingling radiating down the arm or hand? Spine Center Specialist
Do you have pain in the shoulder blade? Spine Center Specialist
Does it hurt when you lift your arm? Shoulder Specialist
Do you have popping or clicking when you move your arm? Shoulder Specialist
Is there pain when you reach behind your back? Shoulder Specialist

Treatment for Shoulder or Neck Injuries

The first step in treating shoulder or neck injuries is a proper diagnosis with a specialist. Not treating these injuries in the early stages can lead to worsening pain or permanent nerve damage, if not treated in the correct manner.

If you are experiencing shoulder or neck pain and would like an evaluation, request an appointment through our online form or call the office to schedule an appointment today.