Most people do not think about shoulder pain after surgery for head and neck cancer … but it is more common than you may think.
In fact, up to 67% of people who have surgery for head and neck cancer can be affected.
A nerve called the Spinal Accessory Nerve is found in the area of the neck commonly treated by surgery. This nerve helps you shrug your shoulders, tilt your head to the side, look up, and lift your arm. When the nerve is injured during surgery and / or radiation, you may not be able to do those movements very well, and sometimes the surgical side shoulder may sit a little lower than the other shoulder.
Recent research points out that physical therapy may be able to help reduce pain and improve shoulder and neck function by providing exercises to help strengthen your muscles, improve posture, and stretch tight tissues.
Ask your doctor about any shoulder or neck pain that you may have after surgery for head and neck cancer. He or she may be able to refer you to a physical therapist who can help.
Do, Jung Hwa ; Yoon, In Jin ; Cho, Young Ki ; Ahn, Jun Su ; Kim, Jung Kyo ; Jeon, Jaeyong. Comparison of hospital based and home based exercise on quality of life, and neck and shoulder function in patients with spinal accessory nerve injury after head and neck cancer surgery
Oral Oncology, November 2018, Vol.86, pp.100-104
McGarvey AC, Hoffman GR, Osmotherly PG, and Chiarelli PE. Maximizing shoulder function after accessory nerve injury and neck dissection surgery: A multicenter randomized controlled trial. Published online 11July2014 in Wiley Online Library. DOI 10.1002/hed.23712.
PT of Costa Rican National Soccer Team for 2007 World Cup in Victoria, CAN. Clinical Instructor for University of Minnesota Doctor of Physical Therapy Affiliations