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The shoulder is a complex and flexible joint, making it vulnerable to damage. Injuries, general wear and tear, and inflammatory conditions can cause shoulder pain. Whatever the cause may be, we’re here to help provide relief.
Shoulder pain can come from the shoulder joint itself or from any of the surrounding muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Various diseases and conditions affecting your chest and abdomen can also cause shoulder pain.
Injuries to the shoulder can come from performing manual labor, playing sports, or repetitive motion. Shoulder pain can be treated at home for the most part, but sometimes physical therapy, medications, or even surgery will be required to manage the pain.
Causes and Risk Factors of Shoulder Pain
One major risk factor for shoulder pain is age. You’re more likely to have problems with your shoulder as you grow older, especially after age 60. This is because the soft tissues surrounding the shoulder tend to degenerate with age.
Shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of injuries and conditions. These can include the following:
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of shoulder arthritis. It is characterized by progressive wear and tear of the cartilage of the joint. The other common type of shoulder arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, which is a systemic autoimmune condition causing inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the joints.
- Bone spurs: These are bony projections that develop along bone edges. Bone spurs often form where bones meet each other. Most bone spurs cause no signs or symptoms, but they sometimes cause pain and loss of motion in your joints.
- Broken shoulder: Shoulder fractures are commonly caused by landing on your hand when you fall with your arm extended, but a shoulder can also be broken by a direct blow to the shoulder.
- Bursitis: If the bursa in your shoulder becomes inflamed, it leads to a condition known as shoulder bursitis. Causes can include injury, overuse, or medical conditions that cause joint inflammation.
- Dislocated shoulder: An injury in which your upper arm bone pops out of the socket that is part of your shoulder blade.
- Frozen shoulder: Commonly characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint, frozen shoulder shows signs and symptoms that begin and worsen over time and then resolve, usually within one to three years.
- Pinched nerve in the neck or shoulder: A pinched nerve in the shoulder occurs when a nearby structure irritates or presses on a nerve coming from the neck. This can lead to shoulder pain and numbness of the arm and hand.
- Torn cartilage: The shoulder muscles are susceptible to injuries and trauma, sometimes due to stress and overexertion of the tissue. There are three common types of torn shoulder cartilage: Bankart lesions, posterior labral tears, and a superior labral tear.
- Torn rotator cuff: An injury to the rotator cuff causes a dull ache in the shoulder, which often worsens with use of the arm. Rotator cuff injuries are common and increase with age. They can occur earlier in people who have jobs that require repeatedly performing overhead motions.
Symptoms of Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can be mild or severe, depending on the cause of the pain. Shoulder pain can be relieved with at-home treatments. However, sometimes shoulder pain occurs because of a greater issue.
Shoulder pain accompanied by difficulty breathing or a sense of tightness in the chest may be a symptom of a heart attack and requires immediate medical attention. Other symptoms that require medical attention include the following:
- A deformed joint
- Inability to use the joint or move your arm away from your body
- Intense pain
- Sudden swelling
You should make an appointment with your doctor if your shoulder pain is accompanied by
- Pain that lasts longer than a few weeks
- Tenderness and warmth around the joint
Types of Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can be caused by injury or various conditions. Two of the most common causes of shoulder pain are rotator cuff tendonitis and impingement syndrome.
Another type of shoulder pain is called referred pain. This is pain that is the result of an injury to another location in your body, usually the neck or biceps. Referred pain generally doesn’t worsen when you move your shoulder, unlike pain that is due to an injury.
Diagnosis of Shoulder Pain
For a proper diagnosis, your doctor will request your medical history and do a physical examination. Your doctor will feel for tenderness and swelling, as well as assess your range of motion and joint stability.
Imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, might be ordered to provide pictures of your shoulder to help with the diagnosis.
Prevention and Treatment of Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can be prevented by performing simple shoulder exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles and rotator cuff tendons. A physical therapist or occupational therapist can show you how to do them properly.
If you’ve had previous shoulder issues, apply ice for 15 minutes after exercising to prevent future injuries. Performing simple range-of-motion exercises every day can keep you from getting frozen shoulder.
Minor shoulder pain can be relieved with at-home treatments, including the following:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
Further treatment depends on the cause and severity of shoulder pain. Options include the following:
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Sling or shoulder immobilizer
Your doctor may also prescribe medicine such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.