Shoulder and Neck Pain

Shoulder and neck pain is a common condition. Driving a golf ball, cleaning windows or reaching for a jar can strain and injure shoulder muscles and tendons, especially in people who are out of condition. Fortunately, this discomfort rarely suggests a serious condition.

Causes of Shoulder and Neck pain:

Sometimes shoulder and neck pain signals serious medical problems, especially with other symptoms such as stiff neck, sudden and severe headache, dizziness, chest pain or pressure and/or loss of consciousness.


Keep the muscles in your shoulders strong and flexible to prevent injury. These exercises can help:

Questions to Ask...



Along with the shoulder and neck pain are you:
Feeling pressure in your chest, especially on the left side, Short of breath or having trouble breathing, Nauseated and/or vomiting, Sweating, Anxious, Having irregular heartbeats

Seek emergency care

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Did you experience a serious injury that caused shoulder and/or neck pain that is not going away and/or is getting worse

Seek emergency care

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Do you have a stiff neck along with a severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting

Seek emergency care

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Do you have any of the following:
Severe or persistent pain, swelling, spasms or a deformity in your shoulder, A shoulder that is painful and stiff with reduced ability to move it, Stabbing pain, numbness or tingling, Pain, tenderness and limited motion in the shoulder

Seek a Doctor

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Is the shoulder pain severe, interfering with your sleep? Is the shoulder stiff in the morning, swollen, tender or hard to move

Call a Doctor

Provide Self-Care




Self-Care Procedures:
Unfortunately, no matter how careful people are, injuries do occur. Injured tendons, muscles and ligaments in any part of the body can take a long time to heal. Longer, in fact, than a broken bone. Don't ignore the aches and pains. Studies show that exercising before an injury has healed may not only worsen it, but may greatly increase the chance for reinjury.

Put the arm with the injured shoulder in a sling when you take the person to the doctor.

Treating Tendonitis:
Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium eases the pain and reduces inflammation. Acetaminophen eases muscle soreness but does not help with inflammation.

Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation are the accepted treatment for tendonitis. While the pain could linger for weeks, with the proper and immediate treatment, it usually disappears in a few days.

R -- Rest the injured shoulder. Rest prevents further inflammation, giving the tendon a chance to heal. Resume your activities only after the pain is completely gone.

I -- Ice the injured area as soon as possible. Immediately putting ice on the injury helps to speed recovery because it not only relieves pain, but also slows blood flow, reducing internal bleeding and swelling.

  • Put ice cubes or crushed ice in a heavy plastic bag with a little water. You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables. Wrap the ice pack in a towel before placing it on the injured areas.
  • Apply the ice pack to the injured shoulder for 10 to 20 minutes. Reapply it every two hours and for the next 48 hours during the times you are not sleeping.

C -- Compress the shoulder injury. Wear a sling to keep the shoulder from moving, to prevent further damage and to remind yourself to take it easy.

E -- Elevate the shoulder whenever possible to further reduce the swelling.

The swelling is usually eased within 48 hours. Once the swelling is gone, apply heat to speed up healing, help relieve pain, relax muscles and reduce joint stiffness.

  • Use a heating pad set on low or medium or a heat lamp for dry heat. Or use a hot water bottle, heat pack or hot, damp towel wrapped around the injured area for moist heat. (Damp heat should be no warmer than 105 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  • Apply heat to the injured area for 20 to 30 minutes, two to three times a day.

Liniments and balms also relieve the discomfort of sore muscles. They provide a cooling or warming sensation. Although these ointments only mask the pain of sore muscles and do nothing to promote healing, massaging them into the shoulder increases blood flow to help relax the muscles.

Treating Bursitis:
Arthritis or any prolonged use of a joint can cause the pain and discomfort of bursitis. Fortunately, these flare-ups can be controlled.

  • Applying ice packs to the sore shoulders
  • Taking a hot shower, using a heat lamp, applying a hot compress or heating pad to the affected shoulder or rubbing the area with a deep-heating liniment

Treating neck pain from whiplash injuries or pinched nerves:
Always see a doctor anytime your motor vehicle is hit from the rear because the accident can cause a whiplash injury. The recommended treatment for whiplash injuries usually consists of using hot and cold packs, massage, exercises, sometimes a neck brace and pain-relieving medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Once your symptoms subside, you can resume normal activity.

Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

After first checking with your doctor, you can ease neck discomfort by:

  • Resting as much as possible by lying on your back
  • Using cold and hot packs. See how to use them in the section on treating tendonitis.
  • Improving your posture. When sitting, select a chair with a straight back and push your buttocks into the chair's back. When standing, pull in your chin and stomach.
  • Using a cervical (neck) pillow or rolling a hand towel and placing it under your neck
  • Avoiding activities that may aggravate your injuries
  • Covering your neck with a scarf in cold weather
  • Practicing some of the stretching and strengthening exercises listed under Prevention