The Most Common Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain

When it comes to dealing with the general aches and pains of daily life, issues surrounding the neck and shoulders are relatively common. According to research, approximately two thirds of the population will experience neck pain during their lives. On top of this, around 10% of all patients suffering with complaints will continue to encounter chronic discomfort. 
 
The neck and shoulder area contains a number of bones, muscles, arteries, veins and nerves, alongside various ligaments and supporting structures. On a daily basis, our necks are consistently relied upon to keep our heads level and aloft as we focus on other tasks and move throughout our lives. Often, we don't recognize the significance of this until pain starts to make itself known. Unfortunately, you can strain your neck muscles in numerous ways, from hunching over the computer at work, to bad posture at home. 
 
Many existing conditions can lead to pain in the neck and shoulder area. Some of these conditions could be incredibly dangerous, such as major trauma or the signs of a heart attack, whereas other cases are less concerning, such as contusions or strains. In rare circumstances, neck pain can present as a symptom of more significant problems, and it is always important to seek medical care if your issues accompany shooting pains, loss of strength, or numbness.
 

Damage to the Soft Tissues of the Neck and Shoulders

 
The most common cause of neck and shoulder pain comes from injury to the soft tissues which can include tendons, muscles, and ligaments within the affected structures. Regularly, these injuries happen as a result of some trauma or sudden damage like whiplash, however, degenerative disc disease in the neck, can cause localized pain, and degenerative arthritis of the neck and spine can pinch nerves, leading to shoulder and neck pain. Less common conditions surrounding the heart, lungs, and spinal cord can also lead to pain in the neck and shoulders, including:
 
  • Bursitis: The bursae in your body are fluid-filled sacs positioned over joints to provide a cushioning effect for the muscles. In some cases, the bursae can become stiff, swollen, and painful after injuries leading to chronic pain. 
  • Broken collarbone: If you fall with your arm outstretched at an angle, this can cause your collarbone to break - a frequent problem when cyclers fall from their bikes. 
  • Broken shoulder blade: Generally, injury to the shoulder blade is commonly associated with forceful trauma, and can lead to lasting pain around the neck and shoulder area.
  • Heart attacks: Although with a heart attack the primary problem is within the heart itself, the attack can lead to neck or shoulder pain know as "referred" pain.

Whiplash Neck Injury

Whiplash is a neck injury that takes place as a result of a sudden jerking motion forwards or backwards. Generally, whiplash happens because of motor vehicle incidents, but it can occur in other circumstances as well. Regularly, whiplash can stretch across the upper back and neck region, resulting in a significant strain across the supporting muscles, discs, and ligaments. 
 
The effects of whiplash can present in a number of different ways. The most common symptoms generally include dizziness, headache, stiffness, and pain. In general, recovery will depend on the extent of the injury and the person in question, but it can take weeks or months on average.  
 
Usually, the best way to manage whiplash is through anti-inflammatory medication and gentle mobilization exercises. Most doctors recommend that patients continue to pursue their daily activities as normal to facilitate a faster recovery.
 

Neck Pain Caused by Posture Problems

 
Consistently poor posture can cause health problems, some of which may last longer than others. Slouching or bad form can lead to neck pain by placing additional strain on the muscles and ligaments around your neck and shoulders. Even standing with your shoulders slouched, or working with your head down for significant periods of time can lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain. 
 
To avoid poor posture pain, try some of the following techniques:
 
  • Be aware of your posture when sitting or standing, and adjust your positon where necessary
  • Make sure that your workstation is suitably organized to allow you to sit properly
  • Frequently change positions and stretch while working
  • Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach, as this can overextend your neck
  • Exercise frequently for improved posture and muscle tone

Osteoarthritis

 
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis, and any person of any age can suffer with it. However, because the onset of osteoarthritis is a result of the altered use of joints throughout the body over prolonged periods of time, older individuals typically suffer more regularly. 
 
Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition wherein the cartilage providing cushioning between joints starts to break down, allowing the bones to grind together. People suffering from this issue can experience symptoms of stiffness, muscle weakness, and pain, and the most commonly affected areas include the lower back, hips, knee, and neck. At present, there is no available cure for osteoarthritis, although approximately 27 million people within America suffer from this ailment. However, it is possible to manage the symptoms with regular exercise, as keeping your joints mobile and within their correct alignment is the best way to nurture the health of good cartilage. 
 

Dealing with Neck and Shoulder Pain

 
There are many different examples of neck and shoulder pain, as well as various different causes. Often, the best way to discover which ailment is affecting you is to speak to a doctor or health professional regarding your symptoms. 
 
In most cases, the treatment of shoulder and neck pain caused by soft tissue problems will include the use of anti-inflammatory medication and pain relievers. However, if the root of the problem is elsewhere, then your doctor will need to pursue different courses of treatment according to your specific needs. For example, in cases where the spinal cord or the roots of nerves have become involved, you may find that a surgical procedure becomes necessary. 
 
Let us know what aggravates your neck and shoulder pain, and whether you've found any useful techniques for managing the problem. 
 
Resources:
 
http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/neck-pain-cervicalgia-and-torticollis 
http://www.medicinenet.com/heart_attack/article.htm 
http://backandneck.about.com/od/s/g/softtissue.htm
http://www.medicinenet.com/acute_and_chronic_bursitis/article.htm
http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/tc/referred-shoulder-pain-topic-overview 
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whiplash/basics/symptoms/con-20033090 
http://www.livestrong.com/article/437366-health-problems-from-bad-posture/
http://www.arthritis.org/arthritis-facts/disease-center/osteoarthritis.php