If you’re experiencing a sharp, aching sensation that radiates in one of your shoulders, or a tingling, pins and needle feeling, you may have pinched nerve in shoulder pain. Commonly referred to as cervical radiculopathy, a pinched nerve in the shoulder occurs when the nerves that extend outward from the spinal column and toward the neck and shoulder are compressed, causing significant discomfort and disruption to everyday life. Read on to learn more about this type of pain and the signs to look for.
What Causes Pinched Nerve in Shoulder Pain?
A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues, like cartilage, bones, or tendons. It’s this pressure that can cause pain and a numbness or a tingling sensation that can make you feel as if parts of your body have fallen “asleep.”
Pinched nerves can also occur anywhere throughout the body. For example, a pinched nerve in the wrist can lead to numbness and pain in the hand or fingers. Similarly, a pinched nerve in the shoulder stems from the compression of nerves that extend outward from the spinal column and toward the neck and shoulder.
Some common causes of pinched nerve in shoulder pain include:
- Injuries to the shoulder—Whether from an accident or a sports injury, shoulder injuries can lead to tissue inflammation and herniated discs, both of which can cause the compression of nearby nerves.
- Herniated discs—Also known as a slipped or bulging disk, herniated discs may distend outward and press against adjacent nerves.
- Disc degeneration—As we age, disks in the vertebrae gradually wear and tear, causing the bones to move closer together, leading to the compression of nearby nerves such as in the shoulder.
Signs of a Pinched Nerve in Shoulder
From a pins and needles sensation to a sharp and aching, burning pain that radiates outward, these are the more obvious signs that you have a pinched nerve in your shoulder. However, there are a few additional signs that you should be aware of. This includes:
1. Weakness in shoulder
If you feel muscle weakness in your shoulder, you may have a pinched nerve. This weakness can also extend into the arm and hand. Sometimes this symptom can be misidentified as a muscle injury, but if weakness persists it may be time to speak with your primary care physician. Additionally, if you’re experiencing this sensation in only one of your shoulders, it’s a clear sign that a nerve in the shoulder is compressed.
2. Neck pain
Pain in the neck can also be a sign of a pinched nerve in the shoulder. Neck pain can be quite uncomfortable and will be especially noticeable when tilting the head or turning from side to side. It may even worsen when moving due to pressure on the nerve and may even cause headaches.
Similar to weakness, numbness from pinched nerve in shoulder pain can extend into the arm and hand, causing extreme discomfort. Often, numbness emerges when you use your shoulder to lift something. You may also encounter a similar feeling when stretching your arms upwards.
4. Changes in bone and tissue
Pain from a pinched nerve in the shoulder doesn’t just happen suddenly. Changes in bone, swollen tissue, or a herniated disk are all likely culprits for this type of pain, which can be easily detected with medical imaging.
5. Your pain is chronic
Chronic pain means your pain has lasted longer than three months and persists despite intervention from treatments like medication. And pain is one of the most chronic symptoms of a pinched nerve in the shoulder.
A pinched nerve in shoulder pain occurs from inflammation in the area where excessive pressure is put on the nerve root. Typically, this type of pain will feel sharp and achy in the shoulder, and as the pinched nerve impacts the cervical spine, it can cause discomfort in the upper back. Additionally, pain from a pinched nerve in shoulder can manifest in different areas such as in the head and neck.
How to Get Relief
While nerve pain may get better over time for some, pain can persist for others, making treatment necessary. Moreover, if a nerve is pinched for only a short time, there’s usually no permanent damage, and once pressure is relieved, nerve function returns to normal. But if it continues, chronic pain and permanent nerve damage can occur.
If you find yourself with the latter, medical imaging can diagnose a pinched nerve and rule out other possible problems, setting you on the right path toward relief. Further, an x-ray or CT scan can examine the spinal bones to see if they are pressing down on the nerve.
A primary care physician will usually recommend nonsurgical treatments first, and if your pain does not improve or worsens, surgery may be the next step. Noninvasive treatment options include:
- Taking anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g., ibuprofen or oral corticosteroids to reduce swelling
- Physical therapy to reduce stiffness and improve range of motion
- Wearing a cervical collar to limit movement and allow nerves to heal
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