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Can the Cervical Spine Cause Shoulder Pain?

Can the Cervical Spine Cause Shoulder Pain?
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Subacromial impingement (SAI) is a common injury in sporting activities that require overhead motions, especially among pitchers, quarterbacks, and swimmers. Not everyone responds to treatment to the same degree, and a new study that reviewed two specific cases may offer a possible reason: the neck.

One of the two cases involved a high school football quarterback and the other a collegiate swimmer. Both participants presented with signs and symptoms of subacromial impingement with minimal neck complaints and few clinical signs that initially supported neck involvement.

Of interest, both patients had poor posture that included forward head carriage and rounded forward shoulders. During the initial examination, both had shoulder pain and weakness while raising their arm up from the side, a “classic” sign of rotator cuff muscle injury and subacromial bursitis. However, neither case did well when treatment addressed only the shoulder, prompting their doctors to test whether or not the patients’ poor posture had a role in their shoulder discomfort.

Once the patients performed chin retraction exercises followed by chin retraction plus extension exercises (three sets of ten repetitions) to improve their posture, they experienced a complete improvement in shoulder impingement and muscle weakness.

The author suspects that both patients experienced intermittent irritation of the C5 nerve root in the neck, which innervates the rotator cuff muscles, leading to their shoulder pain and weakness. In both cases, the two athletes performed home-based exercises and returned to their sports and did not have further problems during the rest of the season.

These two cases are GREAT examples of why doctors of chiropractic evaluate the whole patient to identify any and all factors that may contribute to a patient’s chief complaint. It is very common to find cervical spine joint dysfunction in patients with shoulder pain, and success in treatment favors treating both areas, of which (as noted in these case studies) the neck may be the most important focus.

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