Do you have a pinched nerve in your shoulder…or is it your neck?

Pinched shoulder nerve

Pinched nerves are a real pain. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “as many as 40% of people will get a pinched nerve during their life.” A pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck can be painful, making normal activities difficult—like lifting a package or turning your head. According to a study originally published by the medical journal Brain, “pinched nerves occur in about 85 out of 100,000 adults every year.” If you’re dealing with shoulder, arm and/or neck pain and think you may have a pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck, we have answers.

Symptoms of a pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck

Are sharp pains stabbing you in your neck or shoulder (or both)?  Does it feel like “pins and needles” running down your arm? How about feeling weak in one arm when you go to lift something?

At this point, either your shirt’s too tight—or you may have a pinched nerve.

Is it my neck?

Is it my shoulder?

Surely not both?

Finding the source of the problem can be difficult. Take a look at the table below to figure out if you have symptoms of a pinched nerve or some other problem in the shoulder.

SymptomPinched Nerve in Neck or ShoulderShoulder Problem
Sharp pain or a dull ache in one shoulder onlyYesYes
Weakness in one arm when you try to liftYesYes
Pain in the neck when tilting or turning your head from side to sideYesNo
Burning/tingling/”pins and needles” in your shoulder, perhaps down to your handsYesNo
Pain throughout your neck, shoulder and armYesNo
Pain in your shoulder to your elbowYesYes

Identifying where your nerve is pinched can be difficult without an assessment by a medical professional. Excel’s physical therapists are here to help you determine where your pinched nerve is located and how to relieve it in the fastest, safest way possible.

Other causes of shoulder pain also include:

If you’re experiencing these types of symptoms, contact Excel Physical Therapy to schedule an appointment. We can help determine the cause of your shoulder pain and create a personalized treatment plan for you.

What are the causes of a pinched shoulder nerve?

Your neck has nerves that extend throughout your shoulder and arm. When bone spurs grow or disks bulge, they can put pressure on the surrounding tissue, which can cause it to become inflamed and swell. When surrounding tissue gets inflamed, it can feel like tingling and burning. Either way, something’s getting on your nerves—and it hurts!

What can cause the pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck?

  • Sitting or standing in one position—even with good posture—for long periods of time
  • Slouched sitting with your head forward
  • Sleeping positions that stress your neck (especially lying on your stomach with your head turned to the side)
  • Car accident (even if it was just a fender-bender)
  • Constantly doing the same motion over and over (like swinging a hammer or tennis racket)
  • Putting stress on your neck or shoulders for long periods of time (such as heavy lifting, bending and looking overhead)

While age doesn’t cause pinched nerves, people over 50 are at greater risk of getting a pinched nerve. This is due to a natural loss of water from the disks in the neck and the development of bone spurs, which may narrow the space around the nerves. 

Our physical therapists can help you identify what caused the pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck (or both). Give us a call or fill out our contact form today to find out what’s causing such a pain in the neck!

How do you treat a pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck?

Good news: Surgery is usually not necessary. On the flip side, doing simple at-home treatments by yourself is often not enough and may even increase the pain by irritating the pinched nerve in your shoulder…or is it your neck?

To treat a pinched nerve, our physical therapists do a detailed assessment of your neck, back, ribs and shoulder. They determine what’s causing the problem to help promote healing and prevent it from happening again. (An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)

They then create an individualized recovery plan based on your assessment. It may include direct hands-on treatment, cervical traction, nerve mobility exercises, and neck and shoulder stretching or mobility exercises. A few at-home treatments we may recommend as part of your plan could include:

  • Applying cloth-covered ice packs to your neck and shoulder area for 15-20 minutes every 4-6 hours, for the first 48 hours—then switch to warm, moist heat.
  • Gently stretching your arms and shoulders by crossing one arm over your body and using your other arm to slowly pull it against you.
  • Rolling your shoulders backwards and forwards—slowly.
  • Using good ergonomics when you sit or stand at your computer.

Even if your shoulder or neck feels more uncomfortable than painful, seeing a physical therapist helps you catch any problems before they worsen.

What happens if you let your pinched nerve go untreated?

Other than the pain getting on your last nerve—going untreated could mean permanent nerve damage. This can cause permanent weakness and a loss of feeling (even loss of function in extreme cases). You could also deal with chronic pain.

To heal the pinched nerve in your shoulder and/or neck, our physical therapists first identify which part of your shoulder or neck is causing the problem. They then create an individualized treatment plan designed to reduce pressure and ease irritation—without aggravating your nerve further.

This can involve very specific stretching of the muscles and joints in your neck, rib and shoulder. Our physical therapists also address the underlying issue that’s causing the problem in the first place—because you don’t want this to happen again.

If surgery is required (which it most likely won’t be—that’s only rarely needed), our physical therapists can recommend you to a surgeon, clearly explain the procedure and create a customized recovery plan.

Stop shouldering your pain

Don’t try to tough it out. If you think you have a pinched nerve in your shoulder and/or neck, our physical therapists can determine what caused it in the first place, create a personalized physical therapy plan for you and show you how to prevent it from happening again. Give us a call for a free consultation or contact us for a full appointment today!  We can’t wait to meet you