What causes a pinched nerve in the shoulder?

A pinched nerve in the shoulder could be caused by a number of things, but two common sources are injury to the shoulder blade and damage to the cervical spine (neck). Damage to the cervical spine could cause pain in the shoulder because the nerve roots in the neck send signals that travel to the brain and other areas of the body, like the shoulder, arm and hand.

The first step to determining the cause of the pinched nerve in your shoulder is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. It is important to get a proper diagnosis in order to develop a treatment plan aimed at relieving the pressure on the pinched nerve.

Areas of the body affected by a pinched nerve in the shoulder

Although the most common occurrences of pinched nerves are in the lumbar region of the spine, when examining pinched nerves that affect the cervical spine, they will most often occur at either the C6 or C7 nerve root. These are the bottom two vertebrae of the cervical spine, and the nerves located near these vertebrae send signals out to several other areas of the body.

When the following cervical nerves are pinched, pain and symptoms may radiate from the neck out along the nerve pathway to other areas of the body, such as:

  • C5 — The main result of a pinched C5 nerve root is shoulder pain, weakness in the deltoid muscles, along with the possibility of a numb sensation in the shoulder area.
  • C6 — The main result of a pinched C6 nerve is pain radiating down your arm and into your thumb. Other less common symptoms include weakness in the biceps and wrist muscles.
  • C7 — The main result of a pinched C7 nerve is pain and numbness radiating down the arm and into the middle finger.
  • C8 — The main result of a pinched C8 nerve is a numb sensation or pain felt in the outside of the hand.

Treatments for pinched nerve in shoulder

Once your doctor diagnoses the cause of the pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck, you can begin discussing the treatments available to you. Some simple, at-home treatments can help relieve the pain, such as:

  • Hot/cold compresses
  • Intermittent rest
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Maintain a good posture to reduce strain on the neck and back

Your doctor may recommend a series of conservative treatments to help reduce your pain. These conservative treatments can be a combination of the following methods:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight loss and exercise
  • Stretching and yoga
  • Chiropractic care
  • Corticosteroid injections

Your doctor will discuss these treatments with you, as well as the surgical options available if conservative treatments prove ineffective for your condition.

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