Referred shoulder pain occurs if the discomfort arises in an area away from the actual site of injury or issue. Remember that the pain in the shoulder region might be referred or triggered by an issue in another part of the body such as the spine or the neck. The pressure on the nerves from different causes can lead to the transmission of pain into the shoulder.
Usual causes of referred shoulder pain
Referred shoulder pain originating from the cervical spine is due to compression of a nerve and/or nerve root. There are various reasons why this occurs including muscle spasms, issues with the vertebral discs, spinal fractures, osteoarthritic-changes or tumors. Due to this, the pain is more common among the elderly.
If the nerve is compressed, its capability to convey information to areas it serves are disrupted. Since some nerves transport sensory information, it causes tingling or pins and needles sensation if crushed. Those that carry motor information that end up compressed can cause muscle weakness and oftentimes issues with movement and coordination.
What are the indications?
The indications of referred shoulder pain depend on where the pain is referred from in the thoracic region but essentially includes pain radiating into the arm, chest, neck or shoulders. Tingling or numbness in the fingers or hands might also be present accompanied by poor coordination and muscle weakness especially in the hands.
Depending on the level the area is located, the pain and weakness can occur in various areas.
Damage between the C4 and C5 causes the following:
- Pain or discomfort at the base of the neck radiating to the shoulder and upper arm
- Weakness in the biceps with some shoulder numbness
Damage between the C5 and C6 level causes the following:
- Neck pain that radiates to the shoulder and scapula, down to the outside surface of the arm.
- Weakness in the biceps along with numbness throughout the thumb and index finger.
Damage between the C6 and C7 causes the following:
- Pain that spread from the neck and shoulder up to the external surface of the arm to the middle finger
- Weakening of the triceps with diminished sensation throughout the rear of the hand and middle finger
- The symptoms might settle if the hands are placed on top of the head that might alleviate the pressure on the nerve by increasing the area amidst the cervical vertebrae.
What must I do?
If an individual has referred shoulder pain, it should be carefully assessed by a doctor to ensure that there are no serious underlying issues responsible. The suitable treatment can be started if needed.