Have you got a trapped nerve in shoulder pain feeling again or for the first time? I know it is sore. You are probably feeling what the guy in the picture looks like. Today I wanted to tell you how to know where your shoulder pain is coming from. For this type of condition it could be a pinched nerve from the neck or an injury to the rotator cuff muscles.
When you’re in pain all kinds of worries will be running through your mind. Most people assume first that it is a nerve being squeezed somewhere, but is that always the case?
Read on to find how to tell the difference between a pain coming from a nerve versus pain from the rotator cuff muscles, what are the different types of symptoms, and how to effectively treat your painful shoulder with physiotherapist recommended shoulder pain exercises.
Table of Contents
Symptoms of a Trapped Nerve in Shoulder
Lets start by looking at the different ways others explain pinched nerve shoulder symptoms. People may come into the chiropractors’ office saying things like:
- The shoulder pain is a deep dull ache or a sharp pain,
- The pain is on the inside of my shoulder blade,
- The shoulder pain is worse when I rest,
- The pain is at the back of my shoulder,
- The shoulder pain shoots into my elbow,
- The pain in the shoulder doesn’t go away taking pain killers,
- I get pins and needles in the fingers.
Does this sound familiar? These could be some of the symptoms of a nerve stuck in your neck referring pain in to the shoulder area.
Now let us compare these symptoms to another common condition causing pain in the shoulder called rotator cuff syndrome.
Compared to Rotator Cuff Pain Symptoms
There is a major group of muscle in the shoulder area that holds the arm bone (a.k.a humerus) into the shoulder joint (a.k.a glenohumeral joint). These important shoulder joint muscles are called the rotator cuff muscles.
Someone who goes to see their doctor with pain in the rotator cuff might say things like:
- The shoulder pain started when I picked up a box,
- My shoulder hurts when I pull the car door open,
- I can’t reach my shoulder above my head because the pain is severe,
- My arm feels weak,
- The pain is sharp when I move my arm,
- The pain is like a deep dull ache when I try to lay on my side in bed,
- I can’t reach behind to do my bra strap on,
- I thought the pain would go away after a few days of rest.
Reading the above you can see a nerve pain and muscle pain symptoms sound very similar, except for one or two points. This is why relying on symptoms as an accurate diagnosis alone can be misleading and waste your time with the wrong treatment.
The Common Causes of Shoulder Pain
#1 Trapped Nerve Pain
The cause of pain in the nerve could be from inflammation swelling around the nerve as it exists the neck.
I have discussed shoulder pain coming from a pinched nerve in your neck in some other articles. You can read more on other reasons why nerve compression occurs in the following articles:
- Trapped Nerve in Neck,
- Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy,
- What Causes Pins and Needles,
- What is a Radiculopathy,
- Herniated Cervical Disc Pain.
#2 Rotator Cuff Injury Pain
Pain in the rotator cuff muscles and tendons is called a soft tissue. In this case no nerves have been damaged directly.
The typical causes of pain in the rotator cuff muscle group are:
- Muscle Strain
You could have caused a muscle strain in the rotator cuff muscles. This typically happens when protecting yourself from a fall, or a lifting, pulling or pushing action from the shoulder joint. It is possible to do bad damage like a incomplete or complete tear of the rotator cuff muscles. This needs an ultrasound scan to see the damage.
A tendon is the end of the muscle and is the part that is attached into the bone. The tendons of the rotator cuff muscles can become inflamed or degenerate from chronic pressure on them. This usually happens with a condition called impingement syndrome of the shoulder. The supraspinatus tendon is mainly affected under the acromial-clavicular (AC) joint.
Bursae are fluid filled sacs that act as a cushion between bones and tendons. The bursa of the shoulder can become irritated and inflamed causing a condition called bursitis. The most common is subacromial bursitis.
It is important to know what in your body is sending the pain signals. A nerve stuck in your neck shooting pain into the shoulder area is treated very differently to inflamed muscles or torn tendons in your shoulder.
Choose the Correct Shoulder Pain Treatment
Now you probably want to know how to solve your shoulder ache or pain. Don’t worry I have broken it down in to the two ways to treat your shoulder.
#1 How to Treat a Pinched Nerve Problem
For a nerve entrapment problem you can try reading the some of the other causes for a pinched nerve articles I listed above. They also go into self-help options for you, especially cervical radiculopathy one.
If you want more information on pain-killer drugs or anti-inflammatory medication you should take read about how your doctor or surgeon might prescribe the different nerve pain medications.
#2 How to Treat a Rotator Cuff Problem
To treat the rotator cuff muscles and tendons depends on firstly what is hurting it (i.e. strained muscle, tendonitis, bursitis…)
Your family doctor or the orthopaedic surgeon you have been referred to see will probably start you off on a anti-inflammatory medicine. The shoulder surgeon might suggest a cortisone injection into the painful shoulder.
Other non-surgical treatment options would be hands on care like physiotherapy of the shoulder or learning the best shoulder pain exercises. There is a physiotherapist and osteopath, Tim Allardyce, who has an excellent book on shoulder pain relief exercises. Another great guide for help finding the cause to the best treatment stretches and exercises is this guide from Joe Brent.
The Bottom Line
I hope that you can understand now that a trapped nerve pain in the shoulder area can come from either a compressed nerve in the neck or from the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bursa and other soft tissues of the shoulder joint.
Again, it is important to get an opinion on the source of the shoulder pain first from a healthcare professional so you can figure out a plan of action. Get better soon.