A weak shoulder is a common patient complaint, sometimes related to neck pain or upper back pain, although the symptoms can exist purely on their own. Shoulder pain, tingling, weakness and numbness can be the result of disease processes, injuries, degenerative conditions, nerve innervation problems and psychosomatic concerns and are typically a nightmare to accurately diagnose. This is because the shoulder, like many other bodily locations, often suffers structural deterioration which appears on diagnostic imaging, but is sometimes coincidental to the actual pain involved.
This article describes various shoulder weakness conditions and links them to their respective source processes.
Weakness in the shoulder is typically diagnosed by patient complaint and physical exam, then followed by confirmation imaging. The diagnostic conclusion typically centers around osteoarthritis, bursitis, a torn rotator cuff or some other structural issue. While these structural concerns certainly exist, they are seldom responsible for enacting chronic pain and disability, such as a frozen shoulder joint.
Sometimes, the source of shoulder symptoms is suspected to exist in the spine, with a pinched nerve being blamed, most commonly due to a herniated disc or spinal osteophyte complex. Foraminal stenosis creates a definite symptomatic pattern and can result in weakness and objective numbness in specific muscles. However, in some cases, foraminal narrowing can also exist circumstantially to shoulder symptoms.
Oxygen deprivation can attack the shoulder joint itself or the spinal nerve roots which serve the neurological needs of the shoulder. In either case, the symptoms are unlikely to be correctly identified for what they truly are. Ischemia can be sourced from purely physical, purely psychoemotional or combination mindbody syndromes.
Thoracic outlet syndrome can affect the major subclavian vein and/or artery, enacting regional ischemia which might affect the shoulder, unilaterally or bilaterally. Likewise, mindbody oxygen deprivation typically concentrates its effects in a regional area, as well, possibly affecting normal shoulder functionality.
Barring any verified cause of structurally-induced of ischemia, the mindbody variant is the alternate diagnostic possibility. Most patients will only accept this explanation after they have endured a vast variety of unsuccessful treatments and a failed surgery or two. Dr. John E. Sarno talks much about ischemic shoulder pain conditions in his many books.
Weakness can be due to something as innocent as a muscular injury. Remember, the shoulder is called upon to do lots of physically taxing and difficult work. These occurrences can be very painful, but should resolve in a few days to a few weeks.
Chronic shoulder pain is almost always blamed on some sort of structural issue in the joint itself, which is a real shame. Statistics clearly show torn rotator cuff abnormalities, arthritis and other anatomical changes in people with and without shoulder pain and other symptoms. These conditions are frequently scapegoated as the source of trouble when they may be coincidental.
If your ongoing shoulder issues do not get better, despite the best efforts of your doctor, consider new diagnostic evaluation by several different types of caregivers. I recommend a physical therapist, a spinal neurologist and an orthopedist; just to be sure you have every possibility covered.