Many people experience chronic neck and shoulder pain, which can be debilitating. Pain in these areas can be difficult to diagnose. Some of the most common causes of neck pain include trauma, degenerative disc disease and muscle strain. Shoulder pain may be caused by dislocation, nerve damage and tendonitis.
People that have problems with neck pain often describe it as a tingling or numbing sensation accompanied by pain radiating down the arm, headaches and sharp shooting pain. Some people have localized pain in the shoulder joint, as well as the upper back. Certain movements may cause an increase in pain such as raising the arm, turning the neck or lifting heavy objects. When diagnosing neck and shoulder pain as well as back pain, doctors begin by taking a detailed history from the patient. During this part of the examination, the doctor makes notes of specific areas of pain, as well as any history of injury or illness that may be related to the onset of neck and shoulder pain. Doctors then order diagnostic tests to help them diagnose the patient. Patients may undergo an x-ray, CT scan, MRI or an EMG to discover the cause of pain.
The treatment of neck and shoulder pain may begin with medications to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Pain relieving medication such as acetaminophen is often prescribed daily. More intense pain may require the use of anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen. For those with intense pain, doctors may prescribe stronger pain relief medications or muscle relaxers. Neck bracing may be used in patients that have pain while turning their head or nodding up and down. Many people find that applying ice or heat to the area of pain several times each day relieves their pain greatly. Range-of-motion exercises can increase movement and reduce pain in many patients. Doctors may prescribe several weeks of physical therapy for those with severe neck and shoulder pain. During this treatment, therapists use a variety of treatments such as ultrasound or massage to reduce pain. If arthritis or tendonitis is the primary cause of neck and shoulder pain, the doctor may inject the patient with cortisone to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. If a herniated disc in the cervical spine is the cause of neck and shoulder pain, surgery may be necessary. During this surgery, the doctor removes the damaged spinal disc and fuses the spine. Depending on the overall health and age of the patient, an artificial disc may be placed in the spine where the damaged disc was removed.
While neck and shoulder pain can be severe and affect daily life, there are a variety of treatments available to reduce and manage pain. An occupational therapist may be prescribed to teach patients with chronic pain how to perform the activities of daily living with minimal pain. Devices are available to help remove objects from shelves or cabinets without reaching the arm, which can help keep pain at bay. In many instances, making a few small changes can greatly reduce pain during the healing process.