Discussions By Condition: Muscle conditions

Shoulder pain extending to neck and jaw, also cracking and popping

Posted In: Muscle conditions 7 Replies
  • Posted By: Jewelweed
  • September 3, 2010
  • 01:21 PM

Hello everyone,

I am hoping you can help interpret an ongoing shoulder, neck, and jaw problem. Even if you cannot suggest a diagnosis, I would appreciate hearing about similar experiences and what techniques you have tried to alleviate the pain and cracking and popping noises. As a college anatomy instructor, it is ironic but all the more frustrating that I can’t figure out what is going on. :-(

I am 27, active, and otherwise healthy. For three years I have had chronic pain in my right shoulder, posterior and right lateral neck, left and right TMJ, and muscles of the entire face, including around the temples, eyes, and forehead. The pain is worst along the upper portion of the right trapezius, though the problem may not be the muscle itself but something else in that area.

My shoulder cracks and pops every time I move it. This occurs both when I move the humerus in any direction, and when I pull or push on the right shoulder blade with my left hand. The cracking does not seem to be from within the glenohumeral joint, but along the scapula itself. I have taken to “massaging” the trapezius and pulling and pushing on the shoulder blade what must be hundreds of times a day, because the constant pain makes me want to just tear off the entire area. The cracking and popping noises do not cause additional acute pain; rather, there is constant ache and burning in the area whether or not I have cracked the shoulder at that moment.

Another odd thing is that my trapezius area does not feel like a muscle. It seems incredibly hard, almost like cartilage. Pressing on that area is extremely painful.

Nearly every time I crack the shoulder there is a concurrent cracking in the TMJ. Often, massaging the trapezius area induces cracking along both the shoulder and the TMJ. I am also constantly pressing in to my temples and pulling up on the muscles around my eyes due to the pain, and sometimes this force causes the jaw to make a cracking sound as well.

The pain is constant, but if I extend my arm for long periods of time (such as when working with a computer mouse on a desk), there is also numbness radiating down the entire arm.

I asked the director of my school’s physical therapy program to look at the shoulder. She said nothing seemed misaligned and recommended doing rowing exercises to increase the strength of the rhomboids. She did not seem alarmed by the horrid cracking sounds and said they could just be due to snapping cartilage. She told me to practice rowing for a week and things should improve.

They did not.

I went to a professional massage therapist who is also the athletic director of one of the Big 10 University track and football teams. He attempted to find trigger points, but I did not experience any (perhaps because the background pain is always so strong that I would not notice anything less). His conclusion was pretty much the same as the other: nothing is wrong, I should do rowing exercises, and I should be sure to sleep on my back.

The chronic pain makes it difficult to fall asleep and makes me tired, irritable, and upset much of the time. I have put up with it for a few years but my quality of life is really suffering lately. Due to not having health insurance and due to having bad experiences with doctors in the past, I am hesitant to begin an expensive wild-goose-chase and am hoping someone here might be able to provide some guidance.

Here is some more information and speculation that may or may not be relevant in determining the cause:

- When I was a teenager I had a large overbite corrected by wearing an orthodontic appliance that forced my lower jaw to grow forward. Both jaws were also widened to make room for wisdom teeth. I wonder whether the excessive pressure and bone growth then could lead to jaw problems now. I wonder if TMJ disorder could cause pain and popping that seems like its origin is primarily in the shoulder?

- Both my left and right acromioclavicular joints seem enlarged. Despite being thin and having large bones, the AC joints still seem unusually prominent. (The left side seems larger than the right, though, and my left side does not usually hurt.) Although there is no pain in this joint, could some kind of AC misalignment cause problems in the rest of the shoulder?


- I have ruled out rounded shoulders. When standing in a relaxed position, as shown above, my arms do not overpronate, nor does my neck hunch particularly forward, as shown below.


- My posterior flexibility is limited with the right shoulder. I can reach much further across my back with my left arm than I can with the right arm. Although this stretch is not particularly painful, the limited flexibility is marked; this is as far as I could reach.


Well, that’s all I can think of to say right now! Please let me know if other details would be relevant. This constant pain is getting really unbearable, and I sincerely hope someone can offer at least a glimmer of hope toward resolving the mystery and ending this misery!

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7 Replies:

  • hi,Your symptoms can be related to bulging disc in cervical spine. I know you will say how can bulging disc in cervical spine lead to facial pain. But its true. Cervicogenic pain can be referred to face and all the structures that you referred to be painful. More details about this are presented atFacial Pain caused by Bulging Discs in Cervical SpineFor your case I think you have something like a trapezitis due to bulging disc which is radiating to the face. Kindly evaluate yourself with an MRI Cervical Spine to get more details on the trapezitis and nerve root compression. Pls dont ignore my advice as I am an Orthopedist and I have seen several patients with similar complaints.If you want to know details on causes of neck spasm you can also read this article belowNeck Spasm
    neck-spasm 3 Replies
    • September 5, 2010
    • 00:08 PM
    • 0
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  • Thank you for your input. I am certainly open to that idea... I had not considered it to be the most likely choice, as it would not account for the grinding and popping sounds. However, I will investigate the condition you reference.
    Jewelweed 1 Replies
    • September 7, 2010
    • 09:01 PM
    • 0
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  • Hey Jewelweed, I know someone with a similar situation as yours and she is very frustrated and in a lot of pain, did you ever find out more about your condition or get a formal diagnosis. My friend had her neck looked at like neck-spasm suggested but there was no problems there. Please let me know if you see this so that I can help out a dear friend of mine.
    Anonymous 1 Replies
    • January 31, 2017
    • 04:20 PM
    • 0
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  • I am having an ACDF of the C4/5 and C5/6 vetrebrae next month. I have bulging discs and nerve pain radiating down my left arm. I have many of the same symptoms Jewelweed described.
    Anonymous 1 Replies Flag this Response
  • I have similar pains and problems. I am male and 29 years old and have these symptoms for 8 months now.

    Muscle weakness, shoulder pains and massive cracking and popping noises on every movement. Occasionally also my legs feel weak.

    My thumbs hurt and seem to move slower. My right TMJ hurts and pops for about 8 months also.

    I have done so many tests and still have nothing conclusive.

    Found: Vit D deficiency
    B9 and B12 defiency (no cause found as all other tests are normal (endoscopy, celiac, cbc, im not a vegetarian)
    Brain MRI and spine found a mild hernia on C4 and C5 (neurologist doesnt believe these are related?)
    Anonymous 1 Replies Flag this Response
  • Hello,
    I have the same exact issue right now. Word for word everything you went through is what I have gone through the past 4 years. I have been to neurologists, ENT's, etc. I even got an MRI done on my head to see if there is any serious issue, as the cracking/pain sensations travel from my upper left shoulder blade, to my jaw, and to my temples. I know this post was from 7 years ago, I am hoping you are still available for a response on your current status. The burning sensations you mentioned plus the hardness of the bone in the shoulder confirmed that we have the same exact issue. Please respond if possible. Thank you
    Anonymous 1 Replies Flag this Response
  • I have all of these issues! I am 24 male and had braces when I was younger.

    Some days it is worse than others and on those days it is quite painful.

    For me it is my left side, but exactly as described above... what should I do?? Any luck in getting someone to take this seriously? I haven't yet..
    Anonymous 1 Replies
    • August 30, 2017
    • 04:16 PM
    • 0
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