Back and shoulder pain is a common combination of symptoms experienced by many patients, either concurrently or in tandem. Upper back pain can affect the shoulder joint and certain shoulder problems can also cause pain in the upper back and chest. This is a combination of symptoms which has plagued me recurrently, but only occasionally, for many years. I always thought most of these flare-ups were related to the constant martial arts injuries I sustained during my teaching career. However, now that my neck issues have gotten much worse, I get this particular pattern of suffering more often, with radiating soreness from the neck to the shoulder and acute blinding pain near the shoulder scapula.
It is important to diagnose the correct cause of the pain, if subsequent treatments are going to have any hope of success. Therefore, the goal of this article is to help patients to better understand the true nature of this common combination upper body pain syndrome.
Back muscle pain and ligament pain are the most common forms of combination symptoms in the shoulder and back. The muscles of the shoulder and back work very closely together. A strain or sprain in either area is likely to affect the usage of both regions.
Ligament injuries are also common in the upper back and shoulders. These injuries can be very painful and it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly where the symptoms are originating from. Muscular pain is usually temporary and will most likely resolve with no formal medical care at all or minor back pain treatment.
There are several pain conditions that affect primarily the shoulder, but can cause some sympathetic effects in the back, as well. Other conditions affect the back muscles as the primary location of pain, but some pain can travel into the shoulder joint:
Tendonitis or bursitis in the shoulder joint can cause pain in the arm, shoulder, back and neck. This chronic condition is sometimes called impingement syndrome and describes a problem with the tendons and bursa in the shoulder joint.
A torn rotator cuff can be acutely painful in the arm, shoulder and back. This is a common injury that describes the separation of the shoulder tendons from the bone. Rotator cuff surgery is one of the most overused procedures in modern medicine. Many injuries can be rehabilitated without unnecessary surgery.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that often affects the back and shoulder. This condition is a normal part of aging and is usually not overly symptomatic. Some cases of osteoarthritis can be severe and might require drastic treatment.
Be extremely careful about doctors diagnosing rotator cuff injuries. Many doctors prescribe surgery as the best or only option. Surgery is often not indicated and the risks are not always worth the reward. Always view surgery as a final option and make sure to exhaust all conservative measures before considering an operation.
Be especially careful of obtaining an accurate diagnosis before starting any drastic treatment for back and shoulder pain. These conditions can be tricky and it would be horrible to spend time and money on a shoulder treatment when the actual problem exists in the back.
Make sure to get a few different opinions from doctors and physical therapists. I recommend not telling the doctor that they are a second opinion. This way, you can truly have faith in their diagnosis, rather than fearing that they are just going along for the ride or jumping on the band wagon.