10 Causes For Neck and Shoulder Pain

June 8, 2021

You have a real pain in the neck, but why is it there?

Here are 10 causes for neck and shoulder pain.


Neck and shoulder pain are both very common, but that doesn’t mean you should just pop some Tylenol and shrug it off.

Neck and shoulder pain can be caused by anything from a heart attack to sleeping wrong and everything in between. Some of these causes are more serious than others, so it’s important to pay attention to your body.

A quick diagnosis can help shorten the duration and recurrence of the pain. Read on to find out the common causes of neck and shoulder pain, and what you can do about it.



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1. Heart Attack

Not to be an alarmist, but it’s important to rule out one of the most serious causes first. If your pain is sudden, radiates from the neck and shoulders to the arms or jaw, and/or is tingling, call 911 immediately.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, there is documented evidence that chewing an Aspirin (after calling 911) can literally save your life. If it turns out you’re not having a heart attack, the aspirin will do no harm.

Woman with neck pain in yoga class

2. Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is one of the most common reasons for neck and shoulder pain. It might sound like a no-brainer, but as we age, accidental injury becomes a lot more likely. You may not even remember injuring yourself.

Muscle strain can occur in everyday situations including exercise, lifting groceries, lifting children, gardening, and basically just living.

Whatever the cause, rest and plenty of water will help your body recover. For every day muscle strain, we recommend functional fitness to strengthen the muscles you use during your normal everyday activities.


3. Pinched Nerve

You may have heard someone complain about a pinched nerve (or done it yourself), but what exactly is doing the pinching?

In between each of your vertebrae, nerves run from the spinal cord to areas throughout the body. If any of your vertebrae become misaligned, they can put pressure on the nerve.

A pinched nerve in the neck may cause pain to radiate towards your shoulders. If you’re having tingling, prickling, or spasms in the affected areas, a pinched nerve may be the culprit. Also, if your pain is off and on and not constant it is more than likely a pinched nerve.


4. Herniated Disc

Herniated discs are a common car accident injury, but they can arise at almost any time (and become more likely as you get older).

Sometimes called a ruptured or slipped disc, herniated discs are caused by the inside of the vertebral disc leaking out and putting pressure on a nearby nerve. The pain can be described as a burning sensation and can be felt in your back, neck, or shoulders.


5. Poor Posture

Most people don’t pay attention to the way that they hold their body…until they change positions and feel the pain.

Your body is designed to work in a certain way and in a certain position. If you hold your body in an unnatural position for eight hours (like when you’re working or sleeping), it will eventually cause pain.

If you work at a desk (especially if you’ve been working from home), it sometimes helps to use a standing desk or find other ways to make your workplace more ergonomic. Pay attention to your sleep position as well. Using a bunch of pillows may sound comfortable, but it can be a pain in the neck, literally. Instead, the best pillow for neck pain is a memory-foam pillow with a water-filled core that conforms to your head in any position.

Also, make a conscious effort to relax your jaw. Clenching or grinding your teeth can cause strain in your neck muscles.

Whiplash is one of the most common neck injuries after a car accident.

6. Whiplash

Whiplash is not just a “car accident injury.” You can get whiplash from anything that causes your neck to move back and forth suddenly: contact sports, a slip and fall accident, being shaken, or a bump on the head.

A common characteristic of whiplash is that symptoms can take 24 hours (or more) to appear. Monitor your body for pain following an injury.


7. Stinger Injury

Stinger injuries typically occur in contact sports but can also happen during a car accident.

Sometimes called a “burner,” a stinger injury is caused when the neck and shoulder are stretched away from each other. This stretches the nerve network running between the neck and shoulder, causing a stinging or burning sensation in the shoulder or arms and inability to move the arm, hand, or fingers.

While the experience can be terrifying, stinger injuries typically get better on their own in a matter of minutes.


8. Cervical Osteoarthritis

This is an age-related condition caused by the wearing down of the spinal discs in your neck.

As we age, our discs lose water content and become compressed between the vertebrae. Not having as much “cushion” between the bones can irritate the neck as well as cause pinched nerves.


9. Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is another age-related cause for neck and shoulder pain, causing pain and extremely limited range of motion.

It’s thought to happen more frequently in those with type 2 diabetes or who have had to restrict movement in their shoulder for a period of time. There is no known cause but the condition tends to self-resolve.


10. Gallstones

Wait, isn’t my gallbladder somewhere else? Yes, but when we have gallstones, the gall bladder can become swollen and put pressure on the phrenic nerve. This nerve runs from your abdomen up to your shoulder.

If you’ve got a sudden sharp pain between your shoulder blades accompanied by pain in the upper right abdomen and nausea, it’s time to be seen.


A chiropractor can help diagnose and treat neck and shoulder pain.

Treating Your Neck and Shoulder Pain

Most cases of neck and shoulder pain are short-lived and treatable.

Any pain that stems from an injury will likely benefit from rest, ice packs, and a dose of OTC pain meds (if you really need it). But for chronic or recurrent pain, you should seek the assistance of a licensed chiropractor.

A doctor of chiropractic medicine can treat many cases of neck and shoulder pain that may be caused by a pinched nerve or misaligned joint. If you have a soft tissue injury, many chiropractors have massage therapists on staff who can treat anything from car accident injuries to scoliosis.


Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Neck and shoulder pain are some of the most common—and therefore most treatable—types of pain. But they’re not the only conditions your chiropractor can treat.

At Oviedo Chiropractic, our goal isn’t just to reduce your neck and shoulder pain, but to treat the source of the problem.

Your first visit will include a series of X-rays right in our office to see what’s going on beneath the surface. Next, our doctors will develop a treatment plan based on your unique condition.

Nobody should have to live in pain and it’s our goal to make sure that you don’t. Call us today to make an appointment and discuss your options for pain relief.

Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

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