What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain? (2024)

When neck pain and shoulder pain occur together, some people may find the neck pain more concerning. For others, the shoulder pain may be more painful or limit more activities. Depending on the cause of the pain, it is also possible for the neck and shoulder pain to alternate in intensity during different activities.

In This Article:

  • Understanding Neck and Shoulder Pain
  • What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain?
  • Causes of Shoulder Blade Pain Video

Common Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain

Some of the more common causes of neck and shoulder pain include:

Cervical herniated disc

When a cervical disc’s tough outer layer (annulus fibrosus) tears or partially tears and the soft inner layer (nucleus pulposus) starts to leak outward, the nearby nerve root can become inflamed and painful. If a disc in the lower cervical spine herniates, radicular pain in the shoulder blade region may accompany the neck pain.

Watch Cervical Herniated Disc Video

Cervical spondylosis

Degeneration in the cervical spine, also called cervical spondylosis, can involve cervical osteoarthritis, cervical degenerative disc disease, and other wear-and-tear conditions of the spine. As the spine eventually starts to degenerate with age, one or more intervertebral foramen (bony openings where the spinal nerves exit the spinal canal) may become smaller, called foraminal stenosis. With less room, a spinal nerve may become compressed or inflamed, causing pain to radiate from the neck down into the shoulder.

See Cervical Spondylosis and Cervical Myelopathy Symptoms


Muscle strain

Several muscles are connected to both the neck and shoulder, such as the levator scapulae and trapezius. When one of these muscles becomes strained, pain and stiffness may be felt in both the neck and shoulder. Even in cases where a muscle strain develops in only the neck or shoulder, the pain may be referred to a nearby body region.

See Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies

Stinger injury

When a collision causes the neck to bend sideways, it may overstretch the nerves between the neck and shoulder, causing a stinger injury. A stinger injury, also called a burner, typically results in a shock-like pain that shoots down the arm and may also include some tingling, weakness, or numbness. Stingers usually go away quickly, but they may last longer. A sports collision, such as during football or hockey, is a common cause of stinger injury.

Read more about Stinger Injuries on Sports-health.com

Sometimes neck and shoulder pain may have more than one cause. For example, a traumatic injury, such as a car collision or falling from a ladder, may cause a herniated disc, fracture, and muscle strain that all contribute to the neck and shoulder pain.

Other Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain

Some less common causes of neck and shoulder pain may include:

Thoracic outlet syndrome

This condition occurs when nerves and/or blood vessels become compressed within the thoracic outlet (the small area between the top rib and collarbone). Thoracic outlet syndrome most commonly causes pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the shoulder and/or arm. It may also be accompanied by neck pain. When thoracic outlet syndrome is caused by compressed blood vessels, the neck pain may feel hot or cold due to poor circulation. When nerves are compressed, the tingling or numbness may be felt in the neck.

See Neck Pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Brachial neuritis

When inflammation or damage occurs in the brachial plexus—a group of nerves that travel through the shoulder from the lower neck and upper back—it is called brachial neuritis. This condition typically starts suddenly, such as with sharp or electric shock-like pain. While brachial neuritis pain is usually felt on one side of the body in the shoulder or arm, it may also be felt in the neck. Tingling, numbness, and/or weakness may also go into the shoulder, arm, or hand.

See Brachial Neuritis (Parsonage-Turner Syndrome)

Cervical myofascial pain syndrome

This condition of unknown cause includes painful trigger points in the neck’s muscles and fascia (connective tissues). When a trigger point in the neck is pressed, it may refer pain down into the shoulder or other nearby areas.

Shoulder osteoarthritis

The breakdown of protective cartilage within the shoulder joint can lead to pain and inflammation. Degenerative changes within the shoulder joint may also cause nerve compression that radiates pain up to the neck. 1 Arthritis of the Shoulder. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00222. Last reviewed: January 2013. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Read more about Shoulder Osteoarthritis on Arthritis-health.com


This syndrome typically involves widespread pain, fatigue, tender points, and commonly coexists with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. The myofascial pain is often associated with trigger points that may be present in various parts of the body, especially in the neck and shoulders. Trigger points may feel tender or tight, and they can refer pain to nearby areas when pressed.

See Neck Pain from Fibromyalgia


Many other causes of neck and shoulder pain exist. Visit a doctor for any neck or shoulder pain that persists for more than a week or two. If pain is accompanied by any troublesome signs or symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, dizziness, nausea, or problems with coordination, seek immediate medical attention.

See When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

Dr. Jason Kirkbride is a sports medicine physician specializing in sports and musculoskeletal injuries. He serves as the Co-Director of Regenerative Medicine at Princeton Spine & Joint Center.


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What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain? (2024)


When should I worry about my neck and shoulder pain? ›

Visit a doctor for any neck or shoulder pain that persists for more than a week or two. If pain is accompanied by any troublesome signs or symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, dizziness, nausea, or problems with coordination, seek immediate medical attention.

What disease causes neck and shoulder pain? ›

A pinched nerve in your neck can cause pain that radiates toward your shoulder. This is also known as cervical radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy most often comes from changes in your spine due to aging or injury. Bone spurs can cause a pinching of the nerves that run through the hollow space in the vertebrae.

How do I get rid of neck and shoulder pain? ›

In mild to moderate cases, home remedies may help.
  1. Move more. You may have heard that rest is the best remedy for muscle pain and neck stiffness. ...
  2. Hot and cold therapy. Using ice packs or heating pads can help relieve neck pain fast. ...
  3. Over-the-counter medications. ...
  4. Postural changes. ...
  5. Neck pain exercises.

What causes pain from the neck down to the shoulder? ›

Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve)

This may cause pain that radiates into the shoulder, as well as muscle weakness and numbness that travels down the arm and into the hand. Cervical radiculopathy is often caused by “wear and tear” changes that occur in the spine as we age, such as arthritis.

How do I know if my neck and shoulder pain is heart related? ›

Sudden Pain in the Arm, Neck, Jaw or Upper back

These symptoms are frequently due to a heart attack or angina, especially if they appear suddenly and are accompanied by uneasiness, breathlessness or sweating. In the case of angina, they may disappear totally after a few minutes.

Can neck and shoulder pain be a symptom of heart problems? ›

Pain in the upper body, including the arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw or abdomen, are often warning signs of a heart attack. If the pain is located in the neck, back, jaw, throat or abdomen it may be a sign of heart disease.

What illness starts with neck pain? ›

Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.

What not to do with neck and shoulder pain? ›

Below, you can learn about some of the things to stop doing while managing your neck pain.
  • Don't Wait for the Pain to Go Away. ...
  • Don't Slouch. ...
  • Don't Remain Sedentary. ...
  • Don't Use Too Many Pillows. ...
  • Don't Rely on Passive Treatments. ...
  • Don't Text Excessively.
Nov 8, 2021

What is the best painkiller for neck pain? ›

Pain Relief Medications

Some neck pain may be due to inflammation in the discs of the spine and the surrounding nerves and joints. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alleviate pain by reducing inflammation. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, all of which are available over-the-counter.

What is the best medicine for neck and shoulder pain? ›

Pain relievers might include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Take these medications only as directed.

What is the best position to sleep in with neck and shoulder pain? ›

What is the best sleeping position for neck pain? Two sleeping positions are easiest on the neck: on your side or on your back. If you sleep on your back, choose a rounded pillow to support the natural curve of your neck, with a flatter pillow cushioning your head.

What are the symptoms of a stroke in the neck? ›

Unusual, persistent neck pain

If you experience such pain — especially if you also have stroke symptoms such as dizziness, double vision, jerky eye movements, unsteadiness while walking, or slurred speech — call 911 immediately.

What does a pinched nerve in the neck feel like? ›

Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward. Tingling, or a pins and needles feeling. Muscle weakness in the affected area.

What does a slipped disc in your neck feel like? ›

Pain when moving your neck or deep pain near or over the shoulder blade. You may also feel pain that moves to the upper arm, forearm, and fingers and numbness along your shoulder, elbow, forearm, and fingers. These are common symptoms when you have a slipped disc in your neck.

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