Shoulder arm syndrome - causes and treatment

Cervicobrachial syndrome: complex of complaints of the shoulder and arm
With shoulder-arm syndrome, also known as cervicobrachialgia or cervicobrachial syndrome, sufferers suffer from pain that emanates from the cervical spine and radiates into the arm and / or the head. The most diverse causes lead to this complex of symptoms.


Patients with shoulder-arm syndrome report pain in the shoulder area that can spread to the arm or head. The mobility of the cervical spine may also be restricted. Headaches, neck pain and restricted movement are often accompanying complaints. Additional symptoms include balance disorders, visual disturbances and painful hardening of the muscles in the area of ​​the spine. There may also be sensations and sensitivity disorders.

The pain can come on suddenly and violently - in such cases there is talk of an acute cervical syndrome. The cause of this may be a herniated disc. However, shoulder-arm syndrome has often become chronic before those affected seek help.


Possible causes include poor posture, blockages, a herniated disc, osteoarthritis, tumors, osteoporosis, trauma and muscular tension.

Bad posture

Poor posture of the head and neck, for example when working on the computer, incorrect workload or long car journeys, can result in shoulder-arm syndrome with the symptoms mentioned. If the symptoms have been present for some time, the body tries to reduce them with a gentle posture. This usually creates renewed pain - a vicious cycle begins.

Disc prolapse

A herniated disc in the area of ​​the cervical spine can result in shoulder-arm syndrome. As a rule, a herniated disc causes wear on the spine. This can cause cracks in the cartilaginous fibrous ring of the intervertebral disc. This ring encompasses the viscous gelatinous nucleus, the so-called nucleus pulposus. In the event of an intervertebral disc herniation, the core comes out over the ring due to incorrect posture or constant massive stress - to the side or to the rear. In the worst case, this compresses the surrounding nerves or even the spinal cord.

However, if the cartilaginous fibrous ring remains intact, there is no prolapse, but rather a protrusion (intervertebral disc protrusion). This can also cause massive pain and may result in shoulder-arm syndrome.

Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine

Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine arises from degeneration (wear and tear). Possible causes for this are persistent incorrect stress, a trauma that has led to instability or a genetic predisposition. Over time, the cartilage surfaces wear out, causing the body to grow bones, which in turn can lead to pinched nerves. Furthermore, the intervertebral discs become narrower. As a result, the natural buffer is missing. Such osteoarthritis usually begins around the age of 40.

Osteoarthritis often turns into inflammation, which can cause massive pain - the neck muscles tense, the symptoms increase and the foundation stone for shoulder-arm syndrome is laid.


Spinal tumors can be good - but unfortunately they can also be malignant. Fortunately, primary tumors rarely develop there. However, metastases can form on the spine as a result of cancer. If the tumors press on the nerves, a shoulder-arm syndrome may develop.


Osteoporosis is a disease in which too much bone mass is broken down, making the bone increasingly thin and unstable. The risk of bone fracture increases significantly if the disease remains untreated. Back pain and symptoms reminiscent of shoulder-arm syndrome can also occur.

Preventive action

Drafts harm the neck. The muscles tense, the movement is restricted and pain that extends from the neck over the shoulder to the arm is often the result. Therefore, the neck should always be protected from drafts, even in summer.

If the cervical spine is the weak point, a gentle, careful muscle building can help. Bad postures should also be avoided. However, if you cannot avoid a stereotypical posture at work, it is a good idea to stand up, stretch, and do a few exercises for your neck:

Sit upright in a chair and place your right hand on the side of your head. Now try to put some pressure on your hand - but only very slightly and only briefly. Repeat this a few times and then switch to the other side. You can still do the same with your hand on the forehead and the back of the head.

If you have pain in the area of ​​the neck muscles and also in the area of ​​the shoulders, warmth can help. We recommend the good old hot water bottle or a warming plaster that is applied to the affected areas overnight.

At the doctor's

Anyone who goes to the doctor with pain in the area of ​​the neck, shoulder and arm is first subjected to a detailed medical history: where is the pain, does it radiate, what type is it, describe the character of the pain, what intensifies the pain, etc.? Then the doctor will scan the affected areas. A blood count, in which inflammation values ​​or rheumatoid factors come to light, and imaging methods such as X-rays and MRI support the diagnosis.

Shoulder-arm syndrome is not a disease, but a complex of symptoms, which may be caused by a disease to be treated.

The therapy

Different treatment methods are possible depending on the cause. Pain relievers are usually initially prescribed for the pain. These are not only pain relieving, but also decongestant and anti-inflammatory. With massive muscle tension, muscle relaxing medication is sometimes necessary. With this, the vicious circle can be broken for a short time: no tension - no gentle posture and the pain decreases.

Furthermore, heat applications, physiotherapy, injections and massage are used. Patients are encouraged to regularly perform special exercises at home.

Home Remedies - Relaxing baths with essential oils

A relaxing bath is just the thing when the neck muscles hurt and your shoulder hurts too. Essential oils such as cajeput, juniper, rosemary (not for high blood pressure!), Lavender and eucalyptus are suitable for this. A maximum of four drops are mixed with some good St. John's wort oil and then, when the bath water is already in the tub, stirred by hand into the water. If you don't have St. John's wort oil on hand, you can mix the essential oils with a little cream.

Cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper not only warms internally, but is now contained in finished plasters and ointments. The patches are not suitable for everyone. Hypertension patients and people with sensitive skin should refrain from using it. This warmth is also too massive for some. A slightly gentler variant is an ointment that contains cayenne pepper. This can be dosed more carefully. Both plasters and ointments are available in the pharmacy.

In naturopathic practice

Patients with shoulder-arm syndrome often also go into naturopathic practice. Especially when all other forms of therapy have not brought the desired relief. Acupuncture, foot reflexology, Baunscheidt therapy, cupping and anthroposophic medicine are a few examples of applications of naturopathic practice against shoulder-arm syndrome. Phytotherapy, but also homeopathy and Schüssler salts offer further therapeutic options.

Phytotherapy keeps plants such as the devil's claw, field horsetail, dandelion and nettle ready for the symptoms mentioned. In the Schüßler salts, for example, the salt No. 7 Magnesium phosphoricum, used as "hot sieves", can relieve muscle tension and pain. If there is an inflammation, the number 3 Ferrum phosphoricum helps. Homeopathic remedies for shoulder-arm syndrome include Rhus toxicodendron, Bryonia, Arnica, Magnesium phosphoricum, Arsenicum album and Formica rufa.

In ear acupuncture, the affected areas, such as the cervical spine, muscles and shoulder, are needled. Used in conjunction with foot reflexology, this relieves pain, reduces painful muscle tension and makes you more agile. Moxa therapy is also known from traditional Chinese medicine. With warmed mugwort, open or in the form of a cigar, the muscles are warmed up and the inflammation is alleviated. This, done regularly, can bring relief in the long run. The same applies to the Baunscheidt animals, which are anti-inflammatory and promote blood circulation. Regular cupping for muscle tension also relieves the symptoms.

A shoulder-arm syndrome is often related to a general acidity of the body. Naturopathy therefore recommends a base-rich diet, an adequate hydration in the form of still water, bitter herbs and base powder.


In summary, the symptoms of shoulder-arm syndrome should definitely be taken seriously. The longer the pain has persisted, the more difficult the treatment is. The treatment of the underlying disease comes first. (sw)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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ICD codes for this disease: M53ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

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