The neck is susceptible to injury because of the weight of the head (about 12 pounds in an adult) and lack of supporting skeletal structures. The shoulder, on the other hand, is an extremely complex and flexible joint: three bones -- the clavicle (collarbone); the scapula (shoulder blade); and the humerus (long bone of the arm). These bones are connected and supported by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Any injury or repetitive trauma from overuse can result in pain.
There are many connections between the shoulder and the neck. The two share nerve pathways and some of the muscles are also interconnected. For example, muscles that run up the back of the neck are also attached to the shoulder blade. The brain can't always tell whether the pain signal is coming from the neck or the shoulder. Restricting movement because of pain can also cause muscle tension in both areas, which can result in muscle spasm that makes the pain worse.
As with most musculoskeletal conditions, treatment depends on what's causing the pain. Poor posture can be corrected with conscious attention to posture and exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles. An alignment problem in the neck requires chiropractic adjustment. If overuse of the shoulder is the problem (think of a pitcher throwing one ball after another), rest is required. Heat, cold or alternating both can help relieve spasm and pain.
A common response to pain is limiting movement in the area that hurts. Although that may be a temporary solution, in the long run, it results in tense muscles that can actually become shorter. As the muscles tighten, they pull on the bones to which they are attached, changing the alignment and creating, even more, muscle tension. This vicious cycle changes posture restricts movement even more, and results in chronic pain. The misalignment can even affect other systems in the body. Chiropractic resolves the alignment problems and helps the patient move freely again.
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