When something compresses or pinches a nerve in the shoulder, a person may experience pain, numbness, or tingling. Pinched nerves typically heal without treatment.

A ‘pinched nerve’ is a colloquial term, not a medical one. Compression to nerves across the shoulder and into the spine can all cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the shoulder.

Acute injuries, tissue growth, and changes to bone formation can cause a pinched nerve in the shoulder. This article will identify common symptoms, causes, and treatments for the condition.

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A pinched nerve in the shoulder may cause pain, tingling, numbness, or discomfort, radiating from the shoulder into the arm, chest, or trapezius (trap) muscles.

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
  • numbness and tingling in the fingers or hand

Nerve pain in the shoulder is often due to damage in the brachial plexus, a network of nerves that carry signals from the spine down the arm. The shoulder is a complex working system of bone, muscle, and ligament, meaning that nerves in this area are often at risk of mechanical compression.

In particular, the suprascapular nerve travels deep through the trapezius muscles toward the scapula, passing several potential compression points. Compression of the suprascapular nerve is a common cause of shoulder pain and weakness.

Direct injury to the shoulder, repeated movements, and cysts can all cause shoulder nerve compression.

Shoulder pain originating in the neck

People often experience shoulder pain due to a pinched nerve in the neck. This can occur when bone protrusions or swollen tissue puts pressure on the nerves extending from the spinal column toward the neck and shoulder.

Shoulder pain, tingling, or numbness may occur due to nerve compression in the cervical spine specifically. This is the first seven vertebrae.

Some common causes of a pinched nerve in the neck include disc herniation, degeneration, or direct injury.

Doctors will start diagnosis by taking a history and doing a physical examination.

To rule out other potential causes and confirm a diagnosis, they may order imaging tests, including:

  • X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • electrodiagnostic studies

These tests can help a doctor identify a pinched nerve in the shoulder or another condition that may also cause shoulder pain. Examples of other conditions such as tendon tears or arthritis.

Most people with a pinched nerve will see symptoms resolve without treatment. However, in cases where symptoms do not resolve independently, medical intervention will be necessary.

A doctor will usually recommend nonsurgical treatments first. If a person’s pain does not respond to these treatments or gets worse, the doctor may then recommend surgery.

Nonsurgical treatments for a pinched nerve include:

If the above treatments no longer relieve pain, a doctor may recommend surgery. This may involve decompression of the suprascapular or other identified nerve.

The surgical approach will depend on a person’s symptoms and where nerve compression is occuring.

When a person is experiencing intense symptoms, they may wish to try the following:

  • use cold or warm compresses
  • gently stretching to lessen stiffness
  • take anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medications

When a person’s symptoms start to get better, they may want to try doing the following to help prevent further episodes of pain:

  • Focusing on proper postures when sleeping and sitting at a desk. Adjusting chair and keyboard height may also reduce strain on the back.
  • Engaging in regular exercise to reduce stiffness and help maintain a healthy weight.
  • Having massages that can boost circulation to inflamed areas can aid healing. Massages can also relieve muscle tension.

A physical or occupational therapist can help recommend exercises and give advice on how to improve posture at home and at work.

Below are some commonly asked questions about pinched nerves.

What does a pinched nerve in the shoulder feel like?

A pinched nerve in the shoulder may feel painful and cause tingling, numbness, or discomfort, radiating from the shoulder into the arm, chest, or trapezius muscles.

How long will a pinched nerve in the shoulder last?

It is difficult to say precisely how long a pinched nerve in the shoulder will last. For some people, a pinched nerve will resolve itself quickly – in days or weeks. For others, it may last longer.

How do you release a pinched nerve?

Getting enough rest, taking pain relief, doing gentle stretches, using cold or warm compresses, and having a massage are ways to relieve a pinched nerve.

Do pinched nerves go away on their own?

Most cases of pinched nerves go away on their own with some rest.

Over 85% of acute pinched nerves in the neck resolve without any specific treatments within 8-12 weeks. However, to facilitate reduced inflammation, it is important for a person to consider nonsurgical treatments, including oral anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy.

A pinched nerve in the shoulder can be a painful problem that can lead to weakness, tingling, and numbness in the hand and arm.

Over-the-counter measures can usually help to reduce symptoms. If these methods do not work, surgical options are available.

People should always talk with their doctor when they have shoulder pain that lasts beyond a few days.