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A Pulled Muscle in the Shoulder and Neck

author image Nancy Clarke
Nancy Clarke began writing in 1988 after achieving her Bachelor of Arts in English and has edited books on medicine, diet, senior care and other health topics. Her related affiliations include work for the American Medical Association and Oregon Health Plan.

Pulled muscles in the shoulder and neck can happen during overhead movements or heavy lifting. Even simple actions can cause neck or shoulder strain in muscles that have been stressed from overuse or poor posture. While muscle injuries should resolve on their own, severe shoulder and neck accidents can involve more than just the muscles in and around the rotator cuff. Bursitis, tendinitis and other afflictions of the shoulder or cervical spine can contribute to musculoskeletal pain and disability and require more comprehensive treatment.


Sensations of weakness and pain after a precipitating incident or systematic overuse indicate pulled muscles. Soreness and stiffness that do not fully restrict mobility may rule out additional tendon, ligament and bone complications. The University of Buffalo Sports Medicine group notes, however, that a doctor should identify the extent of moderate to severe injuries.


Underlying conditions will need treatment beyond muscle rehabilitation. An inability to move the arm after a shoulder strain may indicate the need for X-rays or other tests to diagnose additional problems, such as bone fractures or dislocations. Patients who experience shooting neck pain that radiates into the arm may need treatment for nerve damage. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that pain that arises in the shoulder and neck muscles without a traumatic incident may be related to spinal conditions.


Shoulder and neck pain limited to the muscles means that the tissue fibers have separated slightly or completely, the NYU Langone Medical Center explains. Treatment should be geared toward helping the body renew and strengthen pulled muscle tissue. This includes freeing cellular energy for the task by resting and by suppressing shoulder and neck pain and inflammation.


Patients should limit activity and support the affected area until the initial pain and swelling diminish. recommends wearing a soft cervical collar and sling for protection from additional neck and shoulder strain. Patients can also apply ice packs and take ibuprofen or aspirin for relief from pain and inflammation. As the discomfort passes, treatment should include a program of stretching and strengthening exercises.


To prevent re-injury to pulled muscles, patients may need to make posture adjustments, such as using ergonomic lifting techniques or not cradling a telephone between the neck and shoulder. The American Physical Therapy Association reminds patients to position themselves at the desk with the neck in a neutral position, ideally with the arms supported. This will align the rest of the body and prevent the patient from leaning over, which can cause shoulder strain.

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