Correlation between upper back and shoulder pain

Along with upper back problems, shoulder pain can also be an unexpected symptom of spinal deterioration or damage in the cervical (neck) and thoracic (upper back) spine segments. If you are experiencing a sore shoulder, you may not think that a compressed nerve in your back is to blame, but this is often the case. To better understand this concept, read on to take a closer look at the nervous system and how we transfer and receive information throughout the body.

Nerve root connection with upper back and shoulder pain

The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord, with nerve roots branching off the cord and traveling throughout the body. Individual nerves receive motor or sensory signals from the brain and send back relevant information, providing us with our sense of spatial awareness, touch and the ability to detect pain in areas like our upper back and shoulders.

For example, the ulnar nerve in the upper back, which is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body, branches off the spinal cord between the cervical spine (neck) and the thoracic spine (middle back), then travels through the shoulders, all the way down to the fingertips. When this nerve is affected, pain and a tingling feeling can extend all the way through the arms to the hands.

Causes of upper back and shoulder pain

Nerve compression at the vertebral level works in a similar way. If a nerve root is compressed in the spinal column, it can send pain signals throughout the nerve, causing symptoms to radiate to other parts of the body. Common sources of upper back and shoulder pain include:

  • Degenerative disc disease (DDD)
  • Facet disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Bone spurs

These spine conditions can typically develop with injury or age as our spinal discs weaken, meaning that nerve compression may sometimes be unavoidable.

Treatment for upper back and shoulder pain

If you are experiencing upper back pain or shoulder pain associated with nerve compression, be sure to speak with your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. He or she may prescribe a conservative treatment plan that includes nonsurgical therapies such as pain medication, physical therapy, range of motion exercises or cortisone injections. If conservative treatments fail to address your upper back and shoulder pain, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery that has helped more than 75,000 people find relief from debilitating neck or back conditions.

Our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures are often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open neck and back surgery and offer many advantages, such as a lower complication rate of 3 percent and no lengthy recovery.^ By using a small incision and muscle-sparing techniques, our spine surgeons are able to alleviate painful upper back and shoulder symptoms while resulting in less blood loss than highly invasive traditional open back surgery.

Find out if you’re a candidate for our spine surgery today by reaching out to Laser Spine Institute and asking for a no-cost MRI review.* Let us help you take the next step toward reclaiming your life from chronic upper back and shoulder pain.