What Causes Neck, Shoulder, and Arm Pain?

Neck, shoulder, and arm pain can be anything from a minor annoyance to completely debilitating. It can also be acute, which means it comes on and leaves suddenly, or chronic, referring to an ongoing condition with little relief. This type of pain doesn’t always have an obvious cause. That is because pain in one area doesn’t necessarily mean that is where the problem originated. Understanding how the brain controls the nerve pathways leading to the neck, shoulders, and arms is essential to identify the cause of the pain and find a solution to treat it.

How the Brain Communicates with the Nervous System

Billions of nerves connect the neck, shoulders, and arms and the brain controls all of them. While nerves typically go directly to their destination point, sometimes they intermingle with nerves from a nerve network known as a plexus. The brachial plexus contains nerves that originate in the upper and middle back and send pain signals and normal operational signals to arms, hands, fingers, elbows, wrists, and shoulders.

The nerves that make up the body’s brachial plexus system can become irritated when they travel from the spinal column. Misalignment of the neck, upper back, and spinal bones are the most common cause of this irritation. Due to the misalignment, these areas experience limited range of motion and damage the nerves instead of protecting them. The range of motion difficulties can be caused by something as minor as sleeping in an awkward position or as significant as an accident or genetic deformity.

Other Causes of Tightness Near the Brachial Plexus

Joints and muscles located in the chest wall and shoulders can cause misalignment and problems with range of motion as well. This can occur due to injuries, structural abnormalities, or lifestyle factors such as sitting at a desk for long hours every day. Any of these situations can cause pressure on blood vessels and nerves, leading to pain shooting down the arm and a tingling sensation.

Most Common Symptoms of Neck, Shoulder, and Arm Pain

When it comes to neck pain, some of the first indications of a problem include:

  • Pain originating in the neck and radiating down the shoulders, arms, and fingers
  • Stiffness that makes it difficult to turn the head from side to side
  • Stabbing or sharp pain
  • Tender sensation in one or more areas of the neck

Left untreated, neck pain can cause significant quality of life issues. Difficulty with balance or coordination, gripping small items, constant tingling in the extremities, and loss of bladder or bowel control are just some examples.

The following are typical symptoms of shoulder and arm pain:

  • Pain begins in the shoulder and then radiates down the arm
  • Pain is dull and aching
  • Tends to worsen when lifting, reaching overhead, or bringing the arms behind the back
  • Worse at night

Solutions to the Pain

Resting the affected area, icing it daily, and taking non-prescription drugs are the most common home remedies. When these don’t bring relief, cortisone injections, physical therapy, or both can be useful. Working with one of our downtown chiropractors to get the misaligned shoulders, neck, upper back, or lower back into alignment is essential as well.