Do you suffer from shoulder pain and have been told it could be related to sciatica? Many people are surprised when they hear that the same kind of condition can affect both the lower and upper body.
When you think about it, your spine runs from skull to tailbone, so the same issues can crop up anywhere along it.
Here we will discuss what exactly Sciatica is, and how it can affect your shoulder in different ways.
Can Sciatica Affect The Shoulder?
Yes, the nerve compression issues that cause Sciatica can also happen in your cervical spine (neck) and shoulder. In this part of your body, it’s known either as cervical radiculopathy or brachialgia which are distinct issues.
It’s uncommon but possible that true lower-body Sciatica may cause pain to travel to your neck and shoulder. This would likely be caused by a twisting of your posture from lower back pain, making your shoulder hurt – an indirect cause.
“Sciatica” in the neck is known as either cervical radiculopathy, or Brachialgia – which means arm pain from the nerves. However, most shoulder pain is caused by issues like
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Tendonitis (inflammation of tendons).
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition that affects the spine and lower body, causing pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. It is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down to the feet.
The symptoms of sciatica can range from mild leg pain to severe pain that radiates through the posterior of your leg – even to the foot.
Sciatica can be caused by a variety of conditions such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis (slippage of vertebrae), piriformis syndrome (tightening of muscles near the hip joint), or pregnancy-related issues.
The most common symptom associated with sciatica is radiating pain behind your thigh when you move certain ways, or sit for too long. This means there is direct pressure on spinal nerves.
Other symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness in some parts of your leg due to the pinched nerve
- Difficulty standing up straight after bending over
- A burning sensation throughout your leg
- Muscle cramps/spasms, especially of the piriformis muscle deep in your buttock
While Sciatica does not affect the shoulder directly, because there is no Sciatic nerve in this area, understanding how sciatica works can explain why you have shoulder discomfort from the same type of problem.
So, it’s helpful to think of this in two separate ways:
- True sciatica in the lower spine and legs affecting your shoulder
- Sciatica-like issues in the neck that cause shoulder pain
See this comprehensive list of the causes of neck and shoulder pain.
Compression of cervical nerve roots is one way that sciatic-like symptoms may manifest in the shoulder area. You will likely also have neck pain.
This type of compression occurs when there is pressure as the nerves exit your spinal cord in the spinal canal in the neck (cervical spine).
Symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling sensations traveling down into one or both arms and hands as well as weakness or difficulty using certain muscles located around this area.
Another source for shoulder-related nerve issues is problems with the brachial plexus of nerves.
The Brachial Plexus
This bundle of nerve tissue lives outside of your spine, in the space between it and your shoulder.
Under the skin above your collarbone, this is where you would find a big portion of this nerve plexus.
When compressed or irritated due to injury or poor posture habits, these nerves can cause similar symptoms to those associated with sciatica!
To better understand this phenomenon, let’s explore exactly what shoulder problems come from the upper body version of “Sciatica”.
Sciatica-like Symptoms in Your Shoulder
The terms for Sciatica affecting your shoulder are Cervical Radiculopathy and Brachialgia.
These are symptoms of nerve compression. The common conditions causing this are:
- herniated cervical disc (shock absorbers between vertebrae)
- bone spurs from spine degeneration (arthritic changes)
- muscle spasms
- dull ache in the shoulder and arm
The above are progressive issues of the spinal column and its soft tissue, leading to muscle spasms and a dull ache in the shoulder and arm. They can progress to cause pain and other sensations in the shoulder area and beyond.
Tingling or numbness in the shoulder or arm is one of the most common signs of sciatica-like symptoms in your shoulder.
You may feel like you have pins and needles running down your arm, or that it has gone completely numb in rare cases (immediately seek medical attention if you have this).
To better understand what could be causing your shoulder discomfort, let’s take a look at how to identify if your shoulder pain is related to nerve irritation.
How do I know if my shoulder pain is Nerve related?
Shoulder pain can be a tricky thing to diagnose. It’s often hard to tell if your pain is coming from an injury (like bursitis or rotator cuff issues) or if it’s nerve-related.
Nerve-related shoulder pain can be caused by a wide range of conditions. Some we haven’t mentioned yet include:
Injury-related shoulder pain will typically cause localized tenderness in the affected area that may worsen with movement. The range of motion may also be limited due to stiffness and soreness in the joint itself.
In contrast, nerve-related shoulder pain tends to have more widespread symptoms such as burning sensations, tingling, weakness, numbness or shooting pains down the arm into the hand or fingers.
These symptoms are usually worse when moving your arm away from your body rather than towards it; for example when reaching up above your head or backward, instead of across your chest.
Treatment for Shoulder pain from Sciatic-like nerve compression
Treating shoulder pain caused by nerve issues can be a real challenge, but many options exist out there to help you.
Chiropractic care is one of the most effective treatments for this type of condition, as the primary purpose of these doctors is to remove pressure from your nerves.
Chiropractors use manual adjustments to restore proper mechanics and spine motion, which helps reduce inflammation and improve mobility in the affected area.
Physical therapy exercises are beneficial for strengthening muscles around the irritated area and reducing inflammation. [Learn more about physios]
Dry Needling or Acupuncture
Dry needling/acupuncture for sciatica involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate nerve and muscle function, increase blood flow, and reduce pain and inflammation, which can help alleviate the symptoms of sciatica.
Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed by a medical doctor to reduce swelling and discomfort associated with sciatica-like symptoms in your shoulder.
Steroid injections may also be used to reduce inflammation in the affected area, although they should only be used under close medical supervision due to potential side effects.
In some rare cases, surgery may be necessary if other treatments are not successful at relieving pain or restoring normal function of the shoulder joint. Surgery in this case might involve removing part or all of a herniated disc from the compressed nerve root area, so that it can heal properly without further irritation or damage.
No matter what treatment option you choose, it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider throughout your recovery process so that any changes in symptoms can be monitored and addressed.
With proper diagnosis, adherence to the treatment plan, and lifestyle modifications such as avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms, most find relief from their shoulder pain and lead a normal life.
FAQ – Shoulder and Neck Sciatica
What are the symptoms of sciatica in the shoulder?
Sciatica-like compression in the shoulder can cause a range of symptoms, including pain, tingling, numbness and weakness. Pain may be felt in the neck or upper back that radiates down to the shoulder blade and arm.
These symptoms can vary from mild to severe depending on how much pressure is placed on the neck nerve roots or brachial plexus.
Can sciatica cause neck and shoulder pain?
Yes, sciatica-like nerve compression can cause neck and shoulder pain in the same way a herniated intervertebral disc in your lumbar spine causes low back pain and radiating symptoms to the buttock and leg.
Furthermore, if you have true sciatica in the lower body, your neck and shoulder may become painful if you maintain bad postures for a long time, although this is an indirect cause.
Can Sciatica affect my arm and hand too?
Yes, nerve compression in the cervical spine (neck) commonly causes pain in the arm, hands, and fingers, because these nerves arise from the lower neck. This is called cervical radiculopathy and can be very painful, typically with tingling or in severe cases, numbness.
A common hand nerve issue is Carpal Tunnel syndrome, where the median nerve is compressed and inflamed. This is like sciatica but in your wrist.
Can a pinched nerve in your back affect your shoulder?
Yes, a pinched nerve in your back can affect your shoulder. The nerves that run from the spine to the shoulder are called brachial plexus nerves and they can be compressed when there is pressure on them due to a herniated disc or other spinal condition.
This compression can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the shoulder as well as other parts of the arm.
In conclusion, sciatica is a spine and lower body condition – there is no Sciatic nerve in your neck or shoulder. However, you will have similar symptoms if the same tissues are involved – nerves and discs most commonly.
Compression of cervical nerve roots can cause neck and arm pain, while problems with the brachial plexus of nerves can cause a “sciatica” type of pain in the shoulder as well.
These types of dull or sharp pain are a sign of a deeper problem, so consult with your Chiropractor, Physio, or general practitioner. With proper diagnosis and treatment plan, you can confidently find relief from this painful condition.
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