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Aching shoulder problem

I have had aching in my shoulders and neck over the last year, which is getting progressively worse. I also often have tingling fingers (worse when cold). I pulled my shoulder last summer lifting something and while the movement came back after a few days, the pain has never fully gone and made everything much worse - to the point I take painkillers daily to try and reduce the aching. I recently had an MRI scan on my neck, but the results came back as normal. What should I do next to try to help improve the situation, my neck and shoulder muscles are very tense. I have tried various massages but not really effective.

16 September 2019

Last reviewed in September 2019 by Pedro Santos, a registered nurse in our Health at Hand team.

You say that since you pulled your shoulder in the summer you are able to move your arm although it has always been painful. We wonder whether you have possibly trapped a nerve or damaged the muscles or rotator cuff in your shoulder.

Your GP has rightly asked for you to have an MRI of your neck as pain from neck injury can often radiate to the shoulders as well. However if the MRI is only of the neck it may well have not ruled out any muscle or nerve entrapment in the shoulder.

You say that as well as pain you often experience tingling in your fingers. This could be a sign of a nerve being impinged in the shoulder area, in particular the ulnar nerve. This is particularly possible if the tingling is present in the 4th and 5th fingers.

Unfortunately with muscle injury it can often take longer for healing to occur as oxygen - an essential part of the process - is not as easily absorbed by the muscles as it is my other parts of the body.

Your GP might want to run some testing, such as:

  • x-rays or ultrasound of your shoulder joint to look for injury
  • blood tests to rule out diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and
  • nerve conduction tests to look for entrapment of your ulnar nerve.

Most likely they will start off with X-rays and/or ultrasound. 

In relation to the management of pain we would suggest you see your GP to review the medication you are using and to discuss the possibility of physiotherapy and possibly corticosteroid injections or pain relief injections. Non chemical ways of trying to alleviate pain can involve the use of heat/ice packs or TENS machine.

A chiropractor/osteopath may also help as they can help realign your body posture and manipulate your muscles and joints and this can help relieve the tension and pain you are experiencing.

Massage, although it can be helpful, is quite different from the treatment you will receive from a physiotherapist or osteopath.

Making sure that you try to maintain a good posture and taking care when lifting and pulling things can also help.

Exercise is also a good idea as this helps with maintaining mobility of the joint – low impact exercise such as swimming and hydrotherapy may be particularly suitable. Our exercise and fitness hub has lots of tips, information and inspiration to help you get started, and keep you motivated to move more!

If the above suggestions have been tried we would suggest asking your GP to investigate further to ensure that you're receiving the best help and that other medical causes can be eliminated.

Additional help and support

If symptoms persist, we’re here to support you wherever you are and whenever you need us.

You can find lots more useful information on conditions affecting your muscles, bones and joints and how to manage and treat your symptoms in our musculoskeletal centre.

Or if you have a specific question or concern about any aspect of your or your family’s health, why not try our Ask the Expert service. Available around the clock, 365 days a year, this free information service allows you to ask the team of friendly and experienced nurses, midwives and pharmacists about any health concerns you may have. Simply submit your question online and we’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as we can – usually within a couple of hours.

And remember if you have health cover with AXA Health, you can speak to a qualified physiotherapist for help with any musculoskeletal problems as soon as symptoms occur, and without the need for a GP referral, through our Working Body service.

Answered by the Health at Hand team.

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