Can a Pulled Shoulder Cause Shooting Pains in the Head & the Neck?

Woman massaging her neck
Woman holding the back of her neck (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

The shoulders, neck and head are all connected through a complex system of muscles, tendons and nerves. When there is strain in any portion of the shoulder, the pain can resonate into the head, neck, arms, jaw and chest. The strain can be from a wide variety of causes, such as poor posture, degenerative disease or overtraining. With proper treatment, the pain from a shoulder strain may be alleviated.

Causes

A pulled shoulder can be caused from many things and sometimes the exact reason cannot be directly pinpointed. However, if you examine your recent activities, you may be able to determine if a specific movement, exercise or habit caused your shoulder pain. Some common causes are: poor posture, sitting at a computer for a prolonged amount of time, exercise strain, tendonitis, spine injury, poor neck support while sleeping, nerve dysfunction or repetitive motion. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases explains that although there are many physical causes for shoulder pain, degenerative disease due to age is the leading cause.

Pain Origination

The pain in your shoulder could be coming from a muscle, nerve or tendon. When the pain spreads into your neck and head, it is likely that the nerves are irritated and causing the residual pain. According to the National Institutes of Health, if your pain is accompanied by numbness, tingling or weakness, the nerves in your neck are likely being pinched due to muscle strain or disc injury in the spine. The pain you are experiencing may also originate in the tendons of the shoulder, also known as tendonitis. Tendonitis is a weakening or inflammation of the tendons supporting the shoulder joint and causes symptoms of pain, stiffness and swelling of the shoulder and surrounding areas.

Tests and Treatment

Initially, your doctor will perform a physical examination where the range of motion in your shoulder will be tested. Additional tests such as an MRI, X-ray, ultrasound and nerve tests may be ordered to determine the exact cause of the pain. The majority of shoulder strains are treated with physical therapy and pain killers. Massage therapy can also be very beneficial. For more immediate relief, apply a heating pad and cold pack alternately to soothe the area. In addition to treating the pain, you should try to identify the cause and change the behavior causing the strain. The National Institutes of Health suggests you avoid the following activities while experiencing neck and shoulder pain: football, golf, jogging and weight lifting.

Additional Information

Occasionally, shoulder pain may be caused from liver, gallbladder or heart disease. Some shoulder pain can be alleviated quickly with self-care, but it is always wise to seek the advice of a physician for further evaluation. If the pain in your shoulders, neck and head is accompanied by a fever or severe neck stiffness, seek medical help immediately.

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