Here’s Why Your Shoulder Pain May Not Be a Shoulder Problem

Do you or someone you know have shoulder pain? Have you had shoulder treatment that hasn’t worked in the past? Was your pain labeled as having something like a rotator cuff tear or shoulder impingement? As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I am here to say that while you might have shoulder pain, your shoulder might not be the source of your symptoms!

In the video below, Dr. Jacob Templar discusses why your shoulder pain may not be a shoulder problem.

If you don’t like the video or want more information, continue reading.

Impingement and shoulder pain

According to an evidence-based review in 2014, shoulder pain impacts 34% of new patients seen in clinics. Just like other topics I will talk about, impingement is often a catch-all diagnosis for shoulder pain. Additionally, conditions like rotator cuff tears are often non-limiting and do not cause pain in 40-80% of people.

Impingement is described as the pinching of muscles in your shoulder in a small space under the collarbone. However, just because a muscle is being “pinched” doesn’t mean it will hurt. Sure, trauma and swelling associated with impingement can create a change in pressure in the shoulder and create symptoms. Personally, I’d suggest screening the neck and middle back first before addressing the shoulder. In fact, many patients who see me with this type of pain are positive for signs of spine involvement.

RELATED: Demystifying the Rotator Cuff: What You Need To Know

Symptoms of shoulder pain

A large portion of symptoms that start in the neck are missed because of a poor history or lack of area-specific screening. Many people with shoulder pain even after previous treatment, and or surgery, are experiencing neck pain and don’t know it. Furthermore, when someone has altered feelings of sensation, you must be suspicious of the spine. These are not common findings when the shoulder is the cause.

RELATED: 3 Natural Ways To Avoid Costly Treatments For a Bulging Disc

Shoulder pain

Also, the history of your complaint can give away some spine clues. A few of these clues include pain while resting, feeling better with movement, pain that doesn’t get significantly worse with continued use of your shoulder, or an increase in symptoms with sitting or you looking down.


Lastly, a recent scientific article was published showing 29% of people with shoulder pain actually had symptoms starting in their neck! The bottom line is, regardless of what may be the obvious source of our symptoms, your spine should be cleared first. By no means do I want everyone to have a neck or spine issue. I just want to make sure you get the best care for the right area so you can recover optimally.

Next time you see a healthcare provider, make sure to ask them, “could the shoulder pain I’m experiencing be from my neck?” Besides, It’ll only take a few minutes to rule this out and you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re receiving care in the right area.

RELATED: Expert Tips On How To Naturally Relieve Sciatica Pain


  • De Yang Tien J, Tan AHC. Shoulder impingement syndrome, a common affliction of the shoulder: a comprehensive review. Proc Singapore Healthcare 2014;23(4):297-305.
  • Minagawa, H., Yamamoto, N., Abe, H., Fukuda, M., Seki, N., Kikuchi, K., … Itoi, E. (2013). Prevalence of symptomatic and asymptomatic rotator cuff tears in the general population: From mass-screening in one village. Journal of Orthopaedics, 10(1), 8–12.
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Jacob Templar, DPT
I am a Doctor of Physical therapy practicing in Upstate NY. I graduated from Utica College with a Bachelors of Science in Health Studies and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I currently work in a private outpatient setting, treating mainly patients with spine-related injuries. In addition to working with the general public, I have worked with professional athletes, powerlifters, and recreational lifters. However, the majority of the patients I see have persistent symptoms often lasting decades. Over the last 12 months, I was ranked in the top 5% in orthopedic outcomes internationally in FOTO, a standardized outcome tool used in rehab. I also have advanced training in McKenzie (Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy) and as a Primary Spine Provider with Blue Cross Blue Shield. I very much believe in being an educator first and therapist second. Many conditions involve teaching someone information about their body in an easy to digest manner. If I am doing my job, not only am I helping to guide someone through their current musculoskeletal issue, but teaching them how to prevent future issues.