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When Shoulder Pain is Not a Shoulder Problem

Having trouble with shoulder pain?

Having a tough time solving your shoulder pain? It could be the rotator cuff. Maybe it’s the shoulder joint itself? It could also have nothing to do with the shoulder at all. Hmmm.

Here’s how to know when shoulder pain is not a shoulder problem, what the real culprit could be and how to start fixing it.


The shoulder joint is formed where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade), like a ball and socket.

The shoulder has several other important structures as well:

Intimately connected to the shoulder are the structures of the neck.The nerves that exit between the cervical vertebra feed and receive input from many of the tissues and structures in and around the shoulder area.

Needless to say, the shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body.


To understand how to solve a problem that is eliciting pain, it’s necessary to understand (somewhat) pain itself.

When it comes to pain, it sure feels like pain is a problem… but pain is actually a subjective experience, it’s a symptom, a body signal.

Such as the case in a heart attack.

Damaged heart tissue from a myocardial infarction leads to pain we often associate with the condition. However, it’s common knowledge that an intervention aiming only to reduce pain will not solve the problem that lead to it.

To make matters more complicated, the site of damage is rarely where pain is perceived. This is known as referred pain.


There are times when the main source of shoulder pain is primarily a shoulder problem.

Most often the rotator cuff (tendons and muscles that stabilise the joint) develops wear and tear with age and abuse making it more susceptible to injury.

Some typical signs include:



More often than not, a persistent shoulder problem that is not recovering through rehabilitation of structures around the shoulder area or with rest, is in part or in whole, a neck problem!

Some of the more likely signs are:



Diagnosing shoulder pain and uncovering the contributing factors is difficult for even the most experienced clinician.

Unless a trauma or fall is the obvious cause, a problem within the shoulder itself is much less than common than one would expect.

In looking to the neck as one potential factor, a comprehensive assessment will typically show:


When a clearer picture of a shoulder problem comes to light and it includes a contribution from the cervical spine, the best solution to recovery is a multi pronged approach.

Whether it’s chronic pain in the shoulder, neck or even both… it’s best to see an expert as soon as possible.

Without addressing the real problem, you run the risk of ongoing deterioration and negatively impacting other body parts and functions you may never have thought could be related.Have you ever had a shoulder problem that was really a neck problem?What did you do about it?

Yours in Health,NT Chiropractic Health and Wellness Centre

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