Shoulder Pain

Frequently Asked Questions about Shoulder and Arm Pain

What causes shoulder instability?

Muscles stabilize joints.  The shoulder depends on a group of four muscles known as the rotator cuff to stabilize and control it.  If the muscles stabilizing the shoulder joint are weak, injured, or not functioning properly the shoulder becomes unstable and more likely to be irritated, injured, and painful.

What does my spine have to do with my shoulder?

The rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder are controlled by nerves exiting the spine in the lower neck.  In fact, all muscle control and sensory messages to your shoulders, arms, and hands pass through the group of nerves called the brachial plexus which exit the spine in the lower neck.

What happens when nerves are irritated or injured?

When you hit your funny bone (the ulnar nerve) does it only hurt at your elbow?  Nerve irritation or injury can affect all the messages carried by the nerve including muscle control, sensory, and internal organ controlling messages.  Muscles controlled by the nerve can become weak or go into spasm.  Sensations can be altered causing pain, numbness, or tingling wherever the nerve extends to.  Control of internal organs can be interfered with.

Spinal nerves exit the spine through openings called intervertebral foramen.  These openings are surrounded by bone with a joint on one side and the intervertebral disc on the other side.  If a joint or disc in the spine becomes irritated or injured this leads to swelling and irritation in the area of the nerve.  This irritation affects the nerve and can cause local pain along the spine as well as symptoms listed above in the area that the nerve extends to.

So lower neck problems can lead to shoulder problems?

Yes, lower neck problems can affect the control of the shoulder stabilizing muscles and lead to shoulder instability and injury.  Unfortunately the lower neck is one of the most vulnerable areas of the spine.  It is the area most likely to be injured in a whiplash-type injury such as a car accident.  The joints in the lower neck can also be irritated or injured by poor posture, high stress, and repetitive motions such as factory work and waiting tables.

How can an unstable shoulder be stabilized and become pain free?

Healing and stabilizing an injured shoulder starts with restoring proper control of the shoulder muscles. Adjustments of the lower neck will decrease joint and nerve irritation. Active Release and Soft Tissue Therapy will be used to remove any adhesion or scar tissue that has formed from repetitive and overuse injuries. Functional Rehabilitation will be used to restore function and control to the muscles that stabilize the shoulder and ensure proper strengthening and stretching of the rotator cuff muscles. Kinesio Taping and ThermoActive braces can be used to help control swelling, inflammation, and pain in the shoulder.