Chest, Shoulder & Neck Pain

Numerous conditions can cause chest, shoulder and neck pain. According to MedlinePlus, chest pain is a pain or discomfort that may be felt anywhere along the anterior chest wall or the area between the neck and the abdomen on the front of the torso. In some people, chest pain may be accompanied by pain in other parts of the body, such as the neck and shoulder. Chest, shoulder and neck pain can be related to the same condition, or pain in these areas can be caused by separate problems.


The chest, neck and shoulder are three distinct parts of the upper body. Although all three areas contain muscles, bones, ligaments, connective tissue, tendons, nerves and blood vessels, their functions or roles are markedly different. The chest protects the heart and lungs and helps draw the arm toward the body. The neck protects the spinal cord and allows the head and neck to move in different directions. The shoulder enables the arm to move in many different directions.


Simultaneous chest, shoulder and neck pain may be caused by several conditions. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, or NHLBI, pain in these areas may be caused by a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, or by angina pectoris. Both conditions involve a lack of blood flow to the myocardial or heart muscle cells. Without sufficient blood and the oxygen and nutrients it carries, heart muscle tissue may begin to die. The National Fibromyalgia Association, or NFA, states that fibromyalgia -- a chronic or long-standing pain disorder -- may also cause pain in the chest, shoulder and neck.


Symptoms associated with chest, shoulder and neck pain largely depend on the cause and severity of the pain. If the cause of the pain is associated with a heart attack, states that a person may experience pain in the center of the chest that feels like pressure, squeezing or fullness, pain that radiates into the jaw, teeth, neck, shoulder and arm on one side of the body, upper abdominal pain, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea and vomiting, and feelings of impending doom. Pain in these areas that is unrelated to a heart attack may be dull, aching, burning, sharp or stabbing.

Risk Factors

Common risk factors associated with heart-related chest, shoulder and neck pain include advanced age, long-term consumption of tobacco or exposure to secondhand smoke, diabetes, hypertension or chronically elevated blood pressure, a family history of heart attack, lack of physical activity, obesity, stress and substance abuse. Participating in certain sports activities, especially contact sports and wrestling, may lead to muscle strains or ligament sprains in the chest, shoulder or neck areas.


Treatment for chest, shoulder and neck pain largely depends on the cause of the pain. If pain in these areas is heart-related, a person should go to the emergency room as quickly as possible. Certain medications, such as analgesics and blood-thinners, may help reduce pain in these areas and prolong a person's life. If the cause of chest, shoulder and neck pain is of musculoskeletal origin -- caused by muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones or connective tissue -- a person may benefit from conservative care methods, such as chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapy.

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