Shoulder Exercises for Trapped Nerve

By May 16, 2024 No Comments

Chronic neuropathic pain is a prevalent issue, affecting approximately 8% of adults in the UK. This type of pain arises from nerve signalling problems and can stem from progressive nerve disease, infections, injuries, or pressure on nerve roots. These underlying causes share a common trait: they can flare up unpredictably, often without an apparent trigger.

One common manifestation of neuropathic pain is a trapped (pinched) nerve in the shoulder, medically referred to as cervical radiculopathy. Despite the name, this condition originates in the neck, where a nerve becomes compressed. This compression can result from various factors, such as a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, or traumatic injury. The resulting pain frequently radiates into the shoulder and can extend down the arm, leading to discomfort, muscle weakness, and even numbness.

Managing a pinched nerve in the shoulder involves a combination of targeted exercises and stretches. These activities are crucial for alleviating pain, reducing nerve pressure, and strengthening the neck and shoulder muscles to prevent future occurrences.


Trapped Nerve in the Shoulder

A pinched nerve in the shoulder, clinically known as cervical radiculopathy, occurs when a nerve in the neck becomes compressed. This compression can lead to significant discomfort and a range of symptoms affecting the neck, shoulder, and upper extremities.

Common Causes:

  • Herniated Disc:
    When one of the discs in the spine slips out of place, it can press against a nerve, causing pain and discomfort.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease:
    As discs in the spine wear down over time, they can bulge or collapse, leading to nerve compression.
  • Traumatic Injury:
    Sudden impacts or injuries can damage the spine or surrounding structures, resulting in a pinched nerve.


The symptoms of a pinched nerve in the shoulder can vary but commonly include:

  • Muscular Weakness:
    Reduced strength in the affected arm or shoulder.
  • Pins and Needles:
    A tingling sensation ranging from mild to severe.
  • Burning Sensation:
    Persistent or intermittent burning pain in the shoulder or arm.
  • Numbness:
    Loss of feeling in the shoulder, arm, or hand.
  • Radiating Pain:
    Pain that starts in the neck and travels down into the shoulder and possibly the arm, making it seem like the issue is in the shoulder rather than the neck.

Accurate diagnosis is essential to effectively treating a pinched nerve. Since the symptoms can mimic other conditions, it’s crucial to identify the exact cause of the pain. A healthcare professional can use a combination of physical examinations, medical history, and imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans to diagnose cervical radiculopathy. Proper diagnosis ensures the appropriate treatment plan, helps prevent further injury, and promotes faster recovery.


Postural Stretches

Postural stretches are crucial in managing a pinched nerve in the shoulder. They offer several key benefits:

  • Relieving Pressure on Nerves:
    Stretching helps to alleviate the compression on nerves, reducing pain and discomfort.
  • Improving Neck and Shoulder Flexibility:
    Regular stretching enhances the flexibility of the neck and shoulder muscles, making it easier to move without pain.
  • Enhancing Overall Posture:
    Good posture reduces the likelihood of nerve compression and can prevent future pain episodes.

Recommended Stretches

Incorporating the following stretches into your daily routine can help relieve the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the shoulder:

Trap Stretches

  • While looking straight ahead, slowly move your neck downward to the left.
  • Lower your right shoulder as much as possible to feel a stretch in your upper trapezius muscle.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat three to four times on each side.

Chin Tucks

  • Place your fingers on your chin and gently push back to create a double chin.
  • Hold this position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Repeat five times.

Shoulder Rolls

  • Lift both shoulder blades towards your ears.
  • Push them backwards and then lower them slowly.
  • Repeat this motion five times.
  • Reverse the direction, pushing your shoulder blades forward as you lower them, and repeat five times.

Neck Bends

  • Slowly lower your chin towards your chest.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, pushing your chin towards your chest to feel the stretch.
  • Lift your head back to the starting position.
  • Repeat five to ten times.

Head Turns

  • Look straight ahead.
  • Slowly turn your head to the right as far as possible.
  • Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat on the left side.
  • Perform this stretch five to ten times on each side.

Incorporating these postural stretches into your routine can significantly reduce the discomfort associated with a pinched nerve and improve the overall health of your neck and shoulder muscles.


Strengthening Exercises for Neck and Shoulders

Strengthening exercises are vital for managing and preventing the recurrence of a pinched nerve in the shoulder. These exercises offer several benefits:

Building Support for Head and Spine:
Strong neck and shoulder muscles provide better support for the head and spine, reducing the likelihood of nerve compression.

Preventing Future Nerve Compression:
Strengthened muscles can help maintain proper posture and spinal alignment, preventing future episodes of nerve compression.


Incorporating the following strengthening exercises into your routine can help you build the necessary support for your neck and shoulders:

External Shoulder Rotations

  • Use an exercise band and hold it with both hands.
  • Start with your hands by your sides.
  • Lift your hands outward until they are in a T position with your body.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
  • Take a short pause, then repeat another 10 times.

Standing Row Exercises

  • Hold an exercise band with both hands in front of your chest.
  • Keep your elbows bent.
  • Pull the band outward and backward, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
  • Take a short pause, then repeat another 10 times.

Serratus Pushes

  • Lie on your back and hold a barbell or another suitable object.
  • Lift the barbell toward the ceiling, allowing your shoulder blades to lift off the floor.
  • Hold this position for three seconds.
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
  • Take a short pause, then repeat another 10 times.


Physical Therapy for Trapped Nerve

Physical therapy benefits those suffering from a pinched nerve in the shoulder. By working with a trained therapist, patients can receive:

Professional Guidance and Personalised Exercise Plans:
A physical therapist can provide expert advice and tailor exercise regimens to meet each patient’s needs, ensuring safe and effective treatment.

Techniques for Pain Relief and Muscle Tension Reduction:
Therapists employ specialised methods to alleviate pain more effectively than general at-home remedies, targeting the root cause of nerve compression.

Physical therapists use various methods to treat a pinched nerve in the shoulder. These methods relieve pain, reduce muscle tension, and improve overall functionality.

Manual Therapy

  • Manual therapy involves the therapist using their hands to manipulate the muscle tissue and joints.
  • This hands-on approach helps to relieve tension, increase circulation, and improve mobility in the affected area.
  • Manual therapy can significantly reduce nerve pain and promote healing by loosening tight muscles and addressing misalignments.

Therapeutic Exercises

  • Therapeutic exercises are specific movements and routines designed to target the muscles around the affected nerve.
  • A physical therapist guides patients through these exercises, ensuring they are performed correctly to avoid further injury.
  • These exercises strengthen muscles, enhance flexibility, and support the spine and neck, reducing the likelihood of future nerve compression.

Movement Coaching

  • Movement coaching involves assessing and correcting a patient’s posture and movement habits.
  • Poor posture and incorrect movements can contribute to nerve compression and ongoing pain.
  • A physical therapist can identify these issues and provide coaching to improve posture, ergonomics, and daily movement patterns, helping to prevent future incidents of a pinched nerve.


Additional Home Care and Treatments

Managing a pinched nerve in the shoulder often involves incorporating various home care strategies to alleviate pain and prevent further injury. Here are some effective tips:

Rest and Proper Sleep Position

  • Rest:
    Give your body time to heal by taking breaks and avoiding activities exacerbating your symptoms.
  • Sleep Position:
    Ensure you sleep in a position that supports your neck and spine. A supportive pillow can help maintain proper alignment and reduce pressure on the affected nerve.

Use of Hot or Cold Compresses

  • Hot Compress:
    Applying heat can help relax tense muscles and increase blood flow to the area, promoting healing.
  • Cold Compress:
    Cold therapy can reduce inflammation and numb the area, relieving acute pain.

Soft Cervical Collar for Neck Immobilisation

  • Cervical Collar:
    Wearing a soft cervical collar can help immobilise your neck, reducing movement that might aggravate the pinched nerve. This allows the affected area to rest and heal more effectively.

Posture and Possible Use of Posture Correctors

  • Good Posture:
    Proper posture prevents and manages a pinched nerve. Sit and stand with your shoulders back and your spine aligned.
  • Posture Correctors:
    Consider using a posture corrector to help maintain proper alignment, especially during activities that require prolonged sitting or repetitive motions.

In addition to traditional home care methods, several alternative therapies can provide relief and promote healing for a pinched nerve in the shoulder:

Massage Therapy:
Regular massage can help reduce muscle tension and improve circulation, which may alleviate pain and promote relaxation.

Gentle yoga poses and stretches can enhance flexibility, strengthen muscles, and improve posture, all of which can help manage and prevent pinched nerves.

This traditional Chinese medicine technique involves inserting fine needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It can be an effective complementary treatment for nerve pain.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional with concerns.


Professional Help

While many cases of a pinched nerve in the shoulder can be managed with home care and exercises, certain situations require professional medical attention. Recognising these signs is crucial to prevent further complications and ensure appropriate treatment.

Persistent or Worsening Symptoms
If your symptoms persist for more than a few weeks or worsen despite home care efforts, it is time to seek professional help. Chronic pain and discomfort can indicate a more serious underlying issue that requires medical intervention.

Severe Pain Affecting Daily Activities
Severe pain that interferes with your ability to perform daily tasks, such as working, sleeping, or participating in recreational activities, warrants a professional evaluation. This level of pain can significantly impact your quality of life and may need specialised treatment.

Lack of Improvement with Home Remedies
Consulting a healthcare professional is essential if you have tried various home remedies, such as rest, hot or cold compresses, and over-the-counter medications, but see no improvement. They can offer advanced treatments and therapies that are not available at home.

Chiropractors are professionals specialising in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal disorders, including pinched nerves. Consulting a chiropractor can provide several benefits:

Definitive Diagnosis
A chiropractor can perform a thorough assessment, including physical examinations and possibly imaging tests, to diagnose the cause of your symptoms accurately. A definitive diagnosis is critical for developing an effective treatment plan and preventing further complications.

Customised Treatment Plans for Effective Pain Management and Recovery
Chiropractors can create personalised treatment plans tailored to your specific condition and needs. These plans may include spinal adjustments, therapeutic exercises, and lifestyle recommendations to manage pain and promote recovery effectively.

By recognising the signs that indicate the need for professional help and consulting a chiropractor, you can ensure that you receive the appropriate care and treatment for your pinched nerve. This approach addresses the immediate pain, helps prevent future occurrences, and promotes long-term spinal health.


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