Can Stress Cause Shoulder Pain?

Feb 20, 2024 | Pain Management

Stress is an inevitable part of life. We all experience it from time to time to one degree or another. But when the effects of stress run deep and cause physical pain that just won’t go away, it’s time to find professional help. 

Can stress cause shoulder pain? The short answer is yes. But understanding pain’s actual causes and treatments are the first big steps toward finding real relief. 

Stress and Its Connection to Physical Health

The American Psychological Association defines stress as a normal reaction to the demands of life. A small amount of stress can actually be good when it motivates a person to perform well, avoid trouble, and get things done. But when the stress starts to pile up day after day, even common things like sitting in traffic, meeting deadlines, or paying bills can push a person beyond their ability to cope.

Stress can affect all aspects of a person’s health, including their emotional, mental, and physical well-being. If left unchecked, it can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. 

Stress-induced pain can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including headaches, stomachaches, and, yes, shoulder pain. This happens when the pressures of life prompt the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to release a flood of hormones like adrenaline that help your body protect itself, which is a good thing. 

But too much of a good thing often becomes a bad thing. An excessive release of those bodily chemicals can cause your muscles to tense up, and this tension can lead to pain, particularly in the neck and shoulder area. Over time, these muscles can become so tight that the pain becomes chronic.

Symptoms of Stress-Induced Shoulder Pain

Stress-induced shoulder pain can manifest as a constant ache in one or both shoulders, difficulty moving the shoulder or arm, or tightness and stiffness in the neck. Unlike other types of shoulder pain, stress-induced shoulder pain often is accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and restlessness.

If you suspect that your shoulder pain is due to stress, take a moment to reflect on your current stress levels. Are you going through a particularly stressful time at work or home? Are there other symptoms of stress present?

If the answer is yes, it might be time to consult with a healthcare provider. While self-assessment is a great start, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis since chronic shoulder pain can also be a sign of more serious conditions like arthritis or rotator cuff injuries.

Management and Treatment Options for Stress-Induced Shoulder Pain

Treatment for stress-induced shoulder pain often involves addressing the root cause — not the stress itself, but the cause(s) of the stress. Therapies such as physical exercise; relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga; and sufficient sleep can help reduce stress levels. It’s also helpful to take regular breaks during work hours, practice good posture, and create a balance between work and play.

In addition to changes in one’s behavior, pain management specialists often turn to other forms of treatment including:

• Medical treatments like over-the-counter pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or prescription medications

• Physical therapy for improving mobility and strength

• Psychological counseling for addressing issues that cause stress or anxiety

• Simple trigger point injections to release muscle tension

• Minimally invasive treatments such as corticosteroid injections, radiofrequency ablations, and nerve blocks

Treat Shoulder Pain at HPM

When you’re experiencing shoulder pain of any kind, including the stress-induced variety, the pain management experts at HPM can help. Our medically trained specialists know how to pinpoint the cause of a patient’s pain — whether it’s shoulder, neck, back, or other area of the body — and provide the best treatment plan.

HPM operates pain management clinics in rural communities across the country that don’t typically have convenient access to medical specialists. Our practitioners take advantage of the latest advances in pain management, including the minimally invasive procedures mentioned above. 

Don’t let stress-induced shoulder pain hold you back. Visit our website to find an HPM location near you and take the first step towards getting your life back.