It’s the end of the day and your neck is stiff and painful. You may even start to feel a headache coming on. Neck pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders experienced by the general population second only to low back pain.
A recent study in the United States indicated that 15.1% of adults have reported an occurrence of neck pain within the previous three months. A second study determined that 3%-11% of workers experiencing neck pain were affected by it enough to cause lost time at work.
Traditionally, these types of symptoms have been addressed by training the muscles that make up our deep neck flexors, performing manual therapy, and using other non-surgical interventions. However, like most musculoskeletal issues we experience, the solution may not only be to focus on the area of discomfort, but also on nearby structures as well. Studies have shown that the majority of people reporting neck pain also experience shoulder pain or demonstrate poor shoulder movement.
There are several reasons to explain the correlation between neck and shoulder issues. First, the bones and muscles of the cervical spine and shoulders are connected to each other. Therefore, a continuous load on the shoulders can eventually increase the load on the entire cervical region, possibly leading to neck pain. Second, the nerves that act on your arm and shoulder all originate in your neck. If there is damage along this pathway then altered shoulder movements can lead to neck pain.
Several muscles are responsible for proper movement of the shoulder blade including the serratus anterior and the upper and lower trapezius. If these muscles are weak or not working together properly, it can alter the orientation and movement pattern of the shoulder blade and lead to discomfort in the neck. Research has shown that by providing proper support to the arm and shoulder, patients suffering from neck pain reported pain reduction and also demonstrated an improved range of motion in the neck. By strengthening the serratus anterior and trapezius muscles, patients can provide the proper support of their shoulder to help improve any neck pain.
If you currently experience neck pain or headaches, a physical therapist can assist in performing a comprehensive initial evaluation. They will assess the strength and range of motion of your neck and shoulders, as well as your movement patterns, and can provide education as to the causes of your symptoms. During scheduled visits, they can provide you with ways to change your work activities to best reduce your pain, and develop a plan of care to help you return to being pain-free!
Understanding the importance of regular physical activity is paramount in preventing chronic diseases. Contact us today to get started with overcoming your neck pain, so that you can enjoy the active lifestyle your body deserves!
David Girardot, PT, DPT
Sources: Lee, Y, et al Effects of shoulder stabilization exercise on pain and function in patients with neck pain, J Phys. Ther Sci 27: 3619-3622, 2015 Im, B, et al, Effects of scapular stabilization exercises on neck posture and muscle activation in individuals with neck pain and forward head posture, J. Phys Ther Sci 28: 951-955, 2016
Learn methods to relieve neck and shoulder pain in our February 2020 Newsletter!