Neck and shoulder pain can be grouped in many different ways. Some people have pain only in the neck or shoulder, while others have pain in both areas.

What causes neck pain?

Causes of neck pain include:

  • Abnormalities in the bone or joints
  • Trauma
  • Poor posture
  • Degenerative diseases, and
  • Tumors.

The most common cause of neck pain is pain in the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments), which usually occurs as a result of an acute (sudden) or a chronic (long-term) muscle strain. The neck is very mobile, which means it is less stable than other areas of the body, and more easily injured.

What causes shoulder pain?

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint with a large range of movement. Such a mobile joint tends to be more prone to injury. Shoulder pain can stem from one or more of the following:

  • Strains from overexertion
  • Tendonitis from overuse
  • Shoulder joint instability
  • Dislocation
  • Collar or upper arm bone fractures
  • “Frozen” shoulder
  • Pinched nerves (also called radiculopathy)

How are neck and shoulder pain diagnosed?

  • X-rays can be helpful in diagnosing neck and shoulder pain. Plain X-rays can reveal disc space narrowing, rheumatologic disease, destructive lesions, slippage, stenosis, fractures, and instability with flexion-extension views.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive procedure that can reveal the detail of neural (nerve-related) elements.
  • Myelography/CT scanning is sometimes used as an alternative to MRI.
  • Electrodiagnostic studies—electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV)—also might help diagnose neck and shoulder pain, arm pain, numbness, and tingling.

How are neck and shoulder pain treated?

Neck and shoulder pain are treated with one or more of the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine and/or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Moist heat or ice applied to the neck or shoulder
  • An injection of a corticosteroid into the shoulder for arthritis
  • Movement exercises (for both neck and shoulder pain)

For cases in which nerve roots or the spinal cord are involved, surgery might be necessary.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/3/2017…#11978