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Neck pain after shoulder surgery? Here's why and what you can do about it

 Neck Pain After Shoulder Surgery
4 minutes, 16 seconds

Shoulder surgery is a common procedure used to treat a variety of conditions such as rotator cuff tears, shoulder dislocation and osteoarthritis. However, patients often experience neck pain as a side effect of shoulder surgery. 

The neck and shoulder are interconnected and rely on each other for stability, movement and function. Therefore, any changes or disruptions in one area can have a ripple effect on the other area, leading to pain and discomfort. Neck pain can occur after shoulder surgery as a result of compensations and changes in your body's mechanics during the recovery process. 

Understanding the relationship between shoulder surgery and neck pain can help you find a treatment plan that helps you recover quickly. Physical therapists can address your neck and shoulder pain simultaneously to boost your recovery, all while knowing that the health of one depends on the other.

Why are you feeling neck pain after shoulder surgery?

Neck pain after shoulder surgery is a common complication and can be caused by a variety of factors. Here are some possible reasons why someone might feel neck pain after shoulder surgery:

  • Nerve irritation — As your shoulder heals, the tissue between your shoulder and neck can become inflamed. This inflammation can irritate or compress the nerves that run from your neck to your shoulder, leading to pain, tingling or numbness in your neck.
  • Posture changes — After shoulder surgery, you may be instructed to avoid moving your shoulder for a certain period of time. This can cause changes in your posture and place extra stress on your neck, leading to pain.
  • Scar tissue — After your shoulder surgery, scar tissue can form around the wound. While it’s part of your body’s natural healing process, it can also restrict movement and cause pain in the neck and shoulders. Physical therapists can use tools like the Graston Technique® to prevent the buildup of scar tissue while it’s forming.
  • Anesthesia — Anesthesia used during surgery is linked to side effects like back pain, as well as stiffness and discomfort in the neck and upper back. It may take at least a few days after shoulder surgery for side effects like neck pain to wear off. 
  • Stress — Shoulder surgery itself and the recovery period can cause psychological stress and anxiety that can contribute to pain in the neck. In fact, many cases of neck pain are linked to stress-related tension. Relaxation exercises can help calm your mind and train your neck and shoulder muscles to release their tension.

It’s important that you inform your doctor of any persistent or intense neck pain after your shoulder surgery, as this could be a sign of a more severe complication and needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.

How can you treat neck pain after shoulder surgery?

After shoulder surgery, the area surrounding your shoulders, including your neck, can feel tender and sensitive. If your neck is hurting in addition to your shoulder, you need to treat your pain without compromising your healing shoulder. You can try the following gentle treatment options to relieve your neck pain after shoulder surgery, while protecting your shoulder: 

  • Exercises and stretches — While your shoulder is healing from surgery, you need to make sure that any neck movements won’t strain your shoulder or lead to intense shoulder pain. Physical therapists can help you work on both your neck and shoulder’s range of motion, strengthening your muscle groups that support both areas. A physical therapist can also teach you low-impact and safe stretches that release built-up tension in your neck and restore your posture as you heal.
  • Physical therapy modalities — While your shoulder is healing, your physical therapist can perform targeted techniques like dry needling to pinpoint points of tension in your neck. During a dry needling session, your physical therapist will place a sterile needle into your tight muscles, reducing inflammation, increasing blood flow and boosting healing. In addition, your physical therapist can place gentle pressure on sore points in your neck to release tension. This type of manual therapy can be customized according to your pain levels and where the site of your shoulder surgery is.
  • Ice or heat therapy — Applying ice or heat to your neck can help reduce pain and inflammation. Ice is usually applied in the first few days after surgery to reduce swelling, while heat can be applied later to help relax tight muscles.

If your neck pain doesn’t go away easily with the above treatments, you can combine them with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help reduce inflammation and your pain levels. Be sure to follow the postoperative instructions provided by your doctor and physical therapist.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for neck pain after shoulder surgery

By itself, shoulder surgery can cause pain across your shoulders and upper back. If you’re feeling both shoulder and neck pain after surgery, however, it is important to address the source. Physical therapists can help pinpoint the cause of your neck pain and build a treatment plan that promotes healing in your shoulder and decreases your neck pain. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your neck pain after your shoulder surgery.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury and boost your post-surgery healing today!


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