Neck and shoulder pain even when together can have quite a few causes, some life threatening.
This is why it’s natural for GERD sufferers to hope that both neck and shoulder pain is being caused by their GI problems and not something more serious like a heart issue.
“GERD can cause non-cardiac chest pain,” begins Dr. Brian Lacy, MD, of Dartmouth Hitchcock Med Center, who specializes in functional disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and is author of the book “Healing Heartburn.”
“It is usually under the breast bone (sternum) but can occasionally radiate up into the neck (either side, although the left side is more common) and into the left arm,” continues Dr. Lacy.
“However, GERD by itself is unlikely to cause shoulder pain. The key to distinguish neck and shoulder pain is to have the patient see their PCP and do a careful exam.
“Isolated neck and shoulder pain without classic symptoms of reflux (pyrosis and regurgitation; these are the two cardinal symptoms of reflux) is rarely due to GERD.” Pyrosis refers to heartburn.
“A careful exam will usually identify the cause of the neck or shoulder pain (a trapped nerve, an inflamed or torn muscle, arthritis, bursitis, etc.).”
Another life-threatening cause of both neck and shoulder pain, other than a cardiac problem, is lung cancer.
This is when the tumor is located in the top of the lungs. Here, it encroaches upon the nerve that passes from the upper part of the chest to your neck.
However, when this happens, there will likely be other symptoms along with this such as weakening of the hand muscles, a drooping eyelid and/or blurred vision.
If you have both neck and shoulder pain, don’t panic and think you might have lung cancer.
However, don’t assume it might be GERD, either. See your doctor. It’s very most likely a musculoskeletal issue – especially if there are no other seemingly unrelated symptoms such as a hoarse voice, coughing, facial weakness or numbness or one pupil being smaller than the other.