Arthritis symptoms in the neck & shoulders

If you are living with chronic neck and shoulder pain and/or stiffness it could be from arthritis. However, there are many other conditions and injuries that can cause symptoms in these areas as well. There are ways to determine if your symptoms are due to arthritis or another cause.

If you do have neck and shoulder arthritis there are ways to manage the symptoms.


Arthritis is a general term that is used to describe over one hundred conditions. The only way to know if your symptoms are due to arthritis is to have the proper tests done. This includes X-rays, MRIs and blood tests. Your doctor will also perform a full physical exam, and take down the history of the symptoms you are experiencing. The two most common forms are osteoarthritis (a wearing away of the cartilage in the joints) and rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory disease). Arthritis effects everyone differently. However, if you are diagnosed with arthritis in the neck and shoulder, there are some common symptoms you may experience.


Chronic pain is one of the most common symptoms of arthritis in the neck and shoulders. The pain can feel like a dull constant ache. For some patients the pain can be sharp, burning or stabbing and it can radiate to other areas of the body. Neck arthritis pain can start at the base of the skull and radiate to the shoulders. Headaches can also occur with this condition. The pain from shoulder arthritis can radiate down one or both arms. Arthritis pain often becomes worse during activity and lessens when you rest. Arthritis can cause discomfort on just one side of the body or on both sides.


Neck and shoulder arthritis can cause stiffness as well. Stiffness is often the first symptom of neck arthritis that appears. With neck arthritis, you may notice trouble when trying to turn your head or bend it side to side. You may also have restricted motion in the shoulders or arms. If you have arthritis in the shoulder joints, everyday tasks such as dressing, combing your hair and bathing can become more difficult, due to less range of motion in the joint. If not treated, the stiffness can become worse over time, and your range of motion will continue to decrease.

Muscle Weakness

Arthritis in the neck and shoulder can lead to muscle weakness or sensations of numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or fingers. Due to arthritic changes in the neck and shoulder area, there may be pressure on the nerves that run through the vertebrae in the neck. When the nerves are compressed, signals can not get to the muscles in the arm and hands. This means that your muscles can not contract properly and you may have trouble grasping things. If there is compression on a nerve your reflexes will also be slower. In more severe cases the weakness or feelings of numbness can also spread to the legs and feet, making it difficult to balance and walk. There can also be difficulty with urinating. Pressure on the nerves can lead to frequent urination or incontinence.


The first step to managing neck and shoulder arthritis symptoms, is to have your condition correctly diagnosed. Depending on the severity of the damage to the joints, a program of heat, ice, rest and physiotherapy may help to alleviate your symptoms. Gentle strength training and stretching exercises will help you to regain lost range of motion and relieve stiffness. Over the counter or prescription pain medications may be needed to help you go about everyday activities and allow you to get adequate sleep. In cases where there is severe pain or compression to a nerve, surgery may be necessary to help control the disease.