What happens with a pinched nerve in the shoulder?

Doctors may also refer to a pinched nerve in the shoulder arising from the neck as cervical radiculopathy.

An acute injury or changes to the body over time can cause a pinched nerve in the shoulder. This article will identify common symptoms, causes, and treatments for the condition.

Disk degeneration or herniation can cause a pinched nerve in the shoulder.

A pinched nerve in the shoulder will typically cause pain, numbness, or discomfort in the shoulder region.

A person may also have other symptoms, which include:

  • changes in feeling on the same side as the shoulder that hurts
  • muscle weakness in the arm, hand, or shoulder
  • neck pain, especially when turning the head from side to side
  • numbness and tingling in the fingers or hand

 

Causes

A pinched nerve in the shoulder occurs when material, such as bone, disk protrusions, or swollen tissue, puts pressure on the nerves extending from the spinal column toward the neck and shoulder.

The spinal column consists of 24 bones called vertebrae that sit atop each other with protective, cushion-like disks between each one.

Doctors divide the spinal column into three regions based on the area of the body and the appearance of the spinal bones. These include:

  • Cervical spine: Consisting of the first seven vertebrae.
  • Thoracic spine: Made up of the middle 12 vertebrae.
  • Lumbar spine: Consisting of the last five vertebrae.

A pinched nerve in the shoulder affects the cervical spine specifically. Extending from the cervical spine are nerves that transmit signals to and from the brain to other areas of the body.

Some common causes of a pinched nerve in the shoulder include:

  • Disk degeneration: Over time, the gel-like disks between the cervical vertebrae can start to wear down. As a result, the bones can get closer together and potentially rub against each other and the nerves. Sometimes, a person will develop bony growths on their vertebrae called bone spurs. These can also press on shoulder nerves.
  • Herniated disk: Sometimes a disk can stick out and press on nerves where they exit the spinal column. A person will tend to notice this pain more with activities, such as twisting, bending, or lifting.
  • Acute injury: A person can experience an injury, such as from a car accident or sports activity, that causes a herniated disk or tissue inflammation in the body that presses on the nerves.

A doctor can usually identify the cause of a pinched nerve in the shoulder by taking a medical history, doing a physical exam, and requesting imaging studies.

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