Tag Archive for: neck and shoulder

morning neck pain

Three Causes of Morning Neck Pain and What to Do

Waking up with morning neck pain puts a huge damper on your day right from the start. While neck pain may not be at the top of the list when it comes to debilitating musculoskeletal problems (aka people tend to just “live” with it) – it still impacts between 10-20% of the population at any given time – so it’s worth discussing. 

One of the most common problems I see with those suffering from neck issues is that seemingly out of nowhere they can go to bed feeling great – but wake up with a stiff and painful neck that can last up to a day or two. When this pattern starts to repeat itself and goes on for too long – you can end up with a chronic neck problem that doesn’t just show up in the morning – but will start to impact your day-to-day life and get in the way of things you love to do.

Here are Three Common Causes of Morning Neck Pain and What you can Do:

1. Sleeping position

Any joint – including those that make up your neck – will feel strained after being in a prolonged position for too long. In a healthy, uncompromised neck – this is fine if it happens on occasion. But if it’s happening once per month or more – it’s time to address your sleeping position.

Those that like to sleep on their stomachs, or with multiple pillows under their head, are going to have the biggest problems. When you sleep, you want to get your neck as close to what I call a “neutral spine” as possible. That means your neck feels relaxed, maintains its natural curves, and your ears, neck, and shoulder will be aligned on top of one another.  I find the best way to achieve this is by sleeping on your side – or on your back with just one pillow. If you’re a multi-pillow type of person – make sure you’re using the second pillow to hug and support your arm – or in between your legs – not underneath your head.

2. Clenching Your Teeth

While many people tend to associate clenching your teeth with TMJ – or jaw dysfunction, it can cause neck problems as well. When you clench your teeth, you’re also tensing the muscles around your neck. If you do this every night, and for prolonged periods, your neck is going to become very unhappy and start to have problems of its own.

Many folks are unaware they are clenching their teeth at night. But some signs this could be happening to you  include tense or fatigued jaw muscles in the morning, walking up with headaches, or a stiff and painful neck and shoulder when you first wake up. Clenching teeth is often a reaction to stress – so having a good end of day routine could really help with this problem. Be sure to shut off TV and electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Practicing some meditation and/or relaxation breathing just before bed could help too. If all else feels, a night guard could help as well. It won’t stop you from clenching completely, but it will protect your teeth and could minimize your neck pain.

3. A Bulging Disc

This isn’t spoken about too often, but if you’ve got a bulging or problematic disc in your neck – this could be the reason you’re waking up with a stiff and painful neck in the morning. When you lie down and “unload” your spine for a period of time – such as at night while sleeping – our intervertebral discs hydrate and actually get larger. If you wake up with a sudden movement – this could be all it takes to “pinch” that disc and cause your neck to feel “locked up” and with sudden pain.

Now, don’t feel like you need to go running to the doctor for an MRI to figure this out. It’s not necessary. Most people have bulging dics occurring normally as they age throughout their entire spine. They only become a problem when you don’t take care of your spine. When it comes to your neck, the biggest risk factors for turning a normal bulging disc into a painful and problematic one include behaviors such as looking down at your phone, tablet, or computer for too long and not being respectful of the fact that a healthy neck needs to move in all directions – not just forward and down. Doing some simple chin tucks frequently throughout the day and making sure your upper back stays flexible can go a long way in preventing (normal) bulging discs from becoming a problem.

I hope these tips help shed some light on why you might be waking up with morning neck pain and most importantly – what you can do about it. If you try some of these remedies and still find yourself unsuccessful – then it’s time to talk to a mechanical pain expert. There’s no need to rely on pain pills or expensive tests and procedures to resolve morning neck pain. Most of the time, problems like I’ve just described can 100% be resolved naturally and with the right “movement therapy”.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH?

Consider speaking to one of my specialists. Tell us everything that’s been going on with you, and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you.

It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health – whether that’s working with us or not!

Click here to book a free Discovery Visit.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of one of her guide to neck and shoulder pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at [email protected].

Shoulder Pain

Persistent Shoulder Pain could mean Misdiagnosis

Persistent Shoulder Pain could mean Misdiagnosis

We’ve been hearing a lot of complaints lately about shoulder pain. Your shoulder joint is one of the most complex and mobile joints in your body. It’s made up and supported by an intricate structure of bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles and connective tissue. They all work in unison to keep it functional.

You’ve got the head of your shoulder joint (looks like a round ball) inserting into a socket within your shoulder blade (your “wing”). This makes up your shoulder joint and is supported by a joint capsule, ligaments, and your rotator cuff muscles.

Surrounding and supporting your shoulder blade and shoulder joint is your cervical and thoracic spine. (neck and upper back). This has both large and small muscles helping to support your ability to push, pull, reach, and raise your arms overhead.

Intertwined within all of that is a delicate web of nerves and blood vessels… No wonder shoulder pain can be a challenge to treat – never mind diagnose.

If you see your doctor about shoulder pain, they will typically want to take a closer look via X-rays and/or MRI’s. X-rays will show you all the bony parts of your joint – to see if anything is broken and check for arthritis. MRI’s will see if anything is torn or worn away, such as rotator cuff or labral tears.

Relying on imaging to diagnose your shoulder pain can be tough. Or any joint pain for that matter.  It’s entirely possible to have arthritis, a torn rotator cuff, or torn labrum – and still have a perfectly functioning shoulder. The problem is we only get things looked at when we are in pain. So, there is no way to know for sure if you’ve had these “abnormalities” already, and if they are the true reason for your shoulder pain.

For example, it’s estimated that between 20-50% of people over aged 50 have “asymptomatic rotator tears”. Meaning – they walk around with a torn rotator cuff and have zero pain in their shoulder. Just because an X-ray or MRI says so – doesn’t mean it is so. And it’s a big reason why so many folks suffer unnecessarily with persistent shoulder pain.

If I meet someone with shoulder pain that hasn’t gone away – the first thing I question is whether or not we have the correct diagnosis. With shoulders, misdiagnosis is all too common given the complex nature of the joint and surrounding structures.

Here are some clues to help you figure out if your persistent shoulder pain has been misdiagnosed:


Where is your pain?

When pain is coming from the shoulder, the pain will typically be felt directly in three places. In front of your shoulder, on top of your shoulder, or in a more involved shoulder problem (like a rotator cuff injury) down the side of your upper arm. But it will never go below your elbow. If the pain goes past your elbow and into your forearm or hand – radiates above your shoulder into your neck (the upper trap area) – or deep inside your shoulder blade or middle back – odds are pretty good you’re dealing with a neck problem – and not just a shoulder problem.

If you don’t address your neck, your shoulder pain will continue to persist. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen get unnecessary rotator cuff surgery because of this misdiagnosis.

Have you lost mobility in your shoulder?

Lack of mobility is a common symptom associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” These are, indeed, shoulder problems. So if your pain is persisting, you probably have the correct diagnosis, just the wrong treatment approach.

However, one overlooked area when it comes to shoulder stiffness is your middle back (thoracic spine). If your thoracic spine has mobility restrictions – or even weakness that leads to stiffness (our joints stiffen up to compensate for weakness/instability) – it will impact your shoulder joint. Stiffness in your thoracic spine can inhibit your shoulder mobility. Over time, this lack of mobility will irritate structures within your shoulder joint, causing pain.

If you’ve got persistent shoulder pain and feel like you’ve tried everything, get your middle back checked out. This could be your misdiagnosis.

Do your symptoms involve numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening – it’s likely coming from your neck or upper portion of your middle back (cervicothoracic junction). It could be due to a bulging disc or a restricted/faulty movement pattern that is irritating nerve roots (or discs) in your spine. An isolated shoulder problem typically does not involve nerve root compression or irritation. Sometimes certain trigger points in your rotator cuff muscles can refer pain. But this usually feels quite different from what I’m referring to.

Do you consistently feel pain, numbness, tingling or burning in your shoulder blade, middle back, or down your arm? Especially if it seems to move around during the day? Then it’s likely not a shoulder problem. In the medical world we call this presentation “cervical radiculopathy”. If you continue to experience persistent shoulder pain and you’ve got any of the symptoms I just mentioned, this is probably your misdiagnosis.

Confused? I don’t blame you.

The moral of this story is that if you’ve got persistent shoulder pain and given treatment your best shot, then you’ve likely been misdiagnosed. Shoulder pain loves to disguise itself as a spine problem (neck and/or middle back) even when you don’t feel pain in your spine.

Whatever you do, don’t resort to any surgery or major procedures until you’ve thoroughly explored these areas with a mechanical pain expert who knows where to look.

If you are local to Portsmouth, NH

Consider reaching out to one of my specialists by requesting a free discovery visit HERE. They will ask you all about what’s been going on – and see if we would be the best fit to help you.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, email her at [email protected].

Questions About Your Shoulder Pain? Here are Some Real Answers.

Often when clients come to us with shoulder pain, they’ve already tried several approaches without success. But the real issue is that everyone they’ve seen up to that point has failed to give them an accurate diagnosis.

Without an accurate diagnosis, treatment fails.

It’s not surprising. The true cause of shoulder pain is missed by many and can actually be difficult to diagnose. Sometimes it really is your shoulder, but in other cases the pain is actually caused by a problem in your neck. If there is irritation or inflammation in your neck, but someone is aggressively treating your shoulder, guess what? You aren’t going to see results and your pain may even worsen.

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re wondering if really have a shoulder problem… or if you should be getting help for your neck instead.

Where is your pain?

 When you have an actual shoulder problem, the pain is always going to be just in your shoulder. The most common areas to experience pain are directly in front of your shoulder, directly on top of your shoulder, or in a more involved shoulder problem – like a rotator cuff injury – you might feel achiness on the side of your shoulder and down into the side of your arm a little. If the pain goes past your elbow, is above your shoulder and into your neck (the upper trap area), deep inside of your shoulder, or in the back into the shoulder blade, it’s entirely possible (and maybe even likely) that your neck is involved or totally responsible for your “shoulder pain.”

Do you have numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening in your neck – say due to a bulging disc or restricted/faulty movement patterns that irritate your nerve roots – you can feel it into your shoulder, shoulder blade, or even down into your arm.

What’s particularly misleading is that all of this nerve difficulty in the neck will only be felt in your shoulder or arm.

When do you feel stiff?

Lack of mobility and stiffness are common symptoms associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” If your neck moves well, is pain free, and your shoulder is stiff, odds are that the problem is in your shoulder. Now, let’s say you’ve got stiffness in your neck as well as your shoulder. It’s possible the neck stiffness is a result of your shoulder not moving properly. However, you’ll never know for sure without a proper assessment. If there is even a hint of a neck issue being fully or partially responsible for your shoulder problem, it must be addressed or you will never achieve full recovery.

I do everything I’m told, why won’t my shoulder get better?

This is probably the number one sign that your shoulder problem is not really a shoulder problem at all. If you’ve had pain for months, or if you fix your pain but it keeps coming back, then there is a very good chance someone has missed something. Quite possibly, it’s a hidden neck problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen people try three different therapists who’ve prescribed the best rotator cuff exercises on the planet. I’ve seen people get multiple cortisone injections in their shoulder. And worse, I’ve seen people get surgery – only for their shoulder to problem return months or years later. If this sounds like you, then someone has missed the boat and your shoulder problem may not be a shoulder problem at all. You need to find a physical therapist who is a specialist and can properly assess you. They’ll know the right questions to ask, take their time doing a thorough and proper assessment, and get you on the right track to getting better.