Shoulder Pain & Neck Pain

Signs & Symptoms   |    Causes   |    Treatment   |    Questions to Ask   |    Self-Care/Prevention

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Signs & Symptoms

•  The pain can be mild to severe. It can be felt in one spot, in a large area, or travel to another area. Movement can cause the pain or make it worse.

•  Stiffness and/or swelling may occur.


•  Overuse and wear and tear on neck and shoulder muscles and joints.

•  Strains. Broken or dislocated shoulder.

•  Poor posture. Awkward sleeping positions. Sleeping on a soft mattress.

•  Pinched nerve. Pain from a pinched nerve usually runs down one side of the arm.

•  Frozen shoulder. This can result from lack of use due to pain from an injury. At first, pain occurs with movement. Over time, the pain gets better, but stiffness remains.

•  Torn rotator cuff. This is a tear in a ligament that holds the shoulder in place. Symptoms are pain at the top and outer sides of the shoulders, especially when you raise or extend your arm. You may also feel or hear a click when the shoulder is moved.

•  Tendinitis. This is swelling of a tendon (tissue that connects a muscle to bone). Left untreated, tendinitis can turn into “frozen shoulder.” “Wry” neck is a similar problem.

•  Bursitis. This is swelling of the sac (bursa) that surrounds the shoulder joint. Bursitis can be caused by injury, infection, overuse, arthritis, or gout.

•  A whiplash injury.

•  Osteoarthritis.

•  Infections that cause swollen lymph nodes in the neck.


National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

877.22.NIAMS (226.4267)


Treatment for shoulder pain and/or neck pain depends on the cause. Emergency medical care is needed for:

•  A serious injury.

•  A broken bone.

•  A heart attack.

•  Meningitis. This is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain.

Self-care can treat less serious causes of shoulder pain and/or neck pain.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

For Pain

•  Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain and/or swelling.

•  To relieve tension and improve circulation, take walks. Start with 3 to 5 walks a day, each lasting 5 to 10 minutes. Gradually increase walking times.

For Bursitis, Tendinitis, or an Injury That Does Not Appear Serious

•  Use R.I.C.E.

•  Try liniments and balms. These provide a cooling or warming sensation, but only mask the pain. They do not promote healing.

To Treat Neck Pain from a Whiplash Injury or Pinched Nerve

See a doctor anytime your motor vehicle is hit from the rear because the accident can cause a whiplash injury. After first checking with your doctor, do these things to ease neck discomfort:

•  Rest as much as you can by lying on your back.

•  Use cold and hot packs.

•  Improve your posture. When you sit, use a chair with a straight back. Make sure your buttocks go all the way to the chair’s back. When you stand, pull in your chin and stomach.

•  Use a cervical (neck) pillow or a rolled hand towel under your neck.

•  Avoid activities that may aggravate your injury.

•  Cover your neck with a scarf if you go outside when the weather is cold.

Ways to Prevent Shoulder Pain & Neck Pain

•  Avoid repeated activities that twist or put strain on the neck and shoulders. When you do repeated tasks, use proper posture, equipment, and techniques.

•  Wear seat belts in vehicles. Use protective gear when you take part in sporting events.

•  If you are out of condition, strengthen your muscles gradually.

•  Don’t sleep on your stomach. You may twist your neck in this position. Use a firm polyester pillow, a neck (cervical) pillow, or a rolled towel under your neck.

•  Practice good posture. Stand straight. Don’t let your shoulders slump, your head droop, or your lower back slouch.

•  When you carry things, such as a shoulder bag, switch from one shoulder to the other.

•  Don’t prop a telephone between your ear and shoulder.

•  Stretch and warm up before activities that require joint movement, such as sports.

•  Do stretching and strengthening exercises to keep your shoulder, neck, and arm muscles strong and flexible.

– Shoulder Stretch: Reach your right arm across your chest. With your left hand, grasp your arm just above the elbow. Gently pull your arm farther across your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds. Rest and repeat. Do the same with your left arm.

– Neck and Shoulder Stretch: Tilt your head forward and let it hang. Relax your neck and shoulders. Slowly, roll your head to one side then back to the front and then slowly roll it to the other side. (Do not roll your neck backward.) Repeat 10 times.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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