What can cause shoulder pain?
The shoulder is a very flexible joint that is made up of several tendons, ligaments, and muscles that all work together. Should pain can result from injuries, general wear and tear, and a number of inflammatory conditions.
The shoulder comprises three bones:
- the humerus, which is the upper arm bone
- the scapula, which is the shoulder blade
- the clavicle, which is the collarbone
The top of the upper arm fits in to the glenoid, a round socket in the shoulder blade. A set of muscles and tendons called the rotator cuff keep the shoulder joint in place and provide mobility and stability.
In this article, we look at some common causes of shoulder pain and their treatments. We also cover when to see a doctor, diagnosis, and self-care.
There are several other possible causes of shoulder pain, such as:
- inflammation, where your shoulder becomes hot, red, swollen and painful as a natural reaction to an infection or injury
- damage to the muscles and tendons around the shoulder
- tension in the muscles between the neck and shoulder – this is usually down to your posture in your upper back or neck, and is often linked the way you stand or sit when you’re using a computer or at work
- inflammation in the bursa – a fluid-filled cushion which normally helps the muscles and tendons slide smoothly over the shoulder bones
- damage to the bones and cartilage, which can be caused by arthritis.
Each shoulder problem has its own pattern of symptoms that can help your doctor or a physiotherapist make a diagnosis. Most conditions make it painful to use or move your shoulder, but some make your shoulder feel stiff.
Your doctor or physiotherapist will need to see which movements are the most painful, as this could show where the problem is. They will usually ask how the problem started, how it has developed and how it affects your daily activities.
If you can, try to write a few notes about when and how the problem started and what makes it feel worse before your appointment. This will help you get a more accurate diagnosis.