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Pinched Nerve in Shoulder: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention


The sensation of having a pinched nerve in the shoulder can cause significant pain, numbness, and tingling, making daily activities difficult. It occurs when one of the nerves in the cervical spine or in the shoulder itself becomes compressed, often due to poor posture, repetitive motions, or injury. While shoulder pain from a pinched nerve can affect anyone, it is particularly common in those who perform physical labor, play sports, or overuse their shoulder muscles repetitively.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in the Shoulder

The symptoms of a pinched nerve in the shoulder or cervical spine can vary from mild to severe and can significantly affect daily activities. Common symptoms include:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling in the shoulder and down the arm

These symptoms can also lead to muscle weakness and loss of mobility.

People who experience a pinched nerve often refer to it as a “kink” or “knot.”. You may be familiar with this feeling if you have ever experienced a “kink” in your neck. The sensation is very similar.

What Causes a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve in the shoulder joint itself is rare – often forming from cysts, which can cause suprascapular nerve compression or axillary nerve compression.

However, a pinched nerve in the cervical spine can also lead to shoulder pain, making many patients believe the pinched nerve stems from the shoulder itself. In fact, cervical nerve compression can be caused by several factors, including:

Poor posture: Sitting or standing for long periods of time with poor posture can compress the nerves in the neck, leading to shoulder pain or stiffness. 

Awkward sleeping position: Sleeping in certain positions can put pressure on the nerves in the spine, especially if you are a side sleeper.

Repetitive motions: Doing the same motion over and over again can cause a pinched nerve, particularly in athletes or those who perform physical labor.

Injury: Traumatic injuries to the cervical spine – such as those caused by falls or car accidents – can lead to a pinched nerve.

Treatment Options to Relieve Shoulder Pain

If you are experiencing shoulder pain due to a pinched nerve, there are several treatment options that may help reduce your symptoms.

Rest: Resting the neck and shoulder area and avoiding activities that put pressure on the nerve can help reduce inflammation and allow the nerve to heal and decompress.

Ice/heat therapy: Ice or heat therapy is often used to decrease inflammation and promote healing.

Physical therapy: Physical therapists are trained in exercises designed specifically to reduce pain and increase mobility in the shoulder.

Stretching: Stretching the muscles around the neck and shoulder can help to relieve tension on the nerve and promote healing.

Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation and pain.

Surgery: In rare and severe cases, surgery may be recommended to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Tips to Prevent a Pinched Nerve in the Shoulder and Neck

The best way to avoid a pinched nerve is to take precautions and practice good posture. Here are some tips to keep your shoulders healthy:

Practice proper posture: When sitting or standing, make sure you maintain an upright position with your chest out and your shoulders back.

Take regular breaks: If you work at a desk or perform physical labor, make sure you take regular breaks and stretch your neck and shoulders.

Avoid repetitive motions: If you are doing activities that require the same movement over and over again, make sure to pause and switch up the motion every so often.

Warm-up/cool down: When exercising or performing strenuous activities, make sure to warm up and cool down your muscles properly in order to avoid injury.

Sleep on your back: If you are a side or stomach sleeper, try transitioning to sleeping on your back instead. This will help keep the neck and shoulder area relaxed and reduce pressure on the nerves.

When to Seek Professional Treatment for a Pinched Nerve

Most cases of pinched nerves are acute and can be managed with simple home treatments. However, if your symptoms do not improve or you begin to experience severe pain, numbness, or tingling, it is important to seek professional treatment from a provider Motion Orthopaedics.

Treating Shoulder Pain at Motion Orthopaedics

At Motion Orthopaedics, our orthopedic specialists are highly trained and experienced in diagnosing and treating a wide variety of neck and shoulder injuries. We take great care to help ensure our patients receive personalized treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. We provide comprehensive physical therapy and sports medicine services, as well as surgical treatments designed to restore function and reduce discomfort.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced orthopedic specialists. We look forward to helping you find relief and restore mobility.

David J. King, MD

Orthopaedic Surgeon
Hip, Knee, Shoulder, Elbow & Ankle Injuries
Creve Coeur & Wentzville & Rolla
Full Bio
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