Do you suffer from pain in your shoulders? Finding out the shoulder pain causes that are affecting you can be the first step towards treatment. Here are the most common.
What causes shoulder pain?
Shoulder pain originates in the shoulder joint, which includes the collarbone, shoulder blade, humerus, and the four groups of muscles within it. The shoulder has a huge range of motion. It’s is one of the largest joints in the human body, which also makes it one of the most vulnerable to pain. Here are the five most common shoulder pain causes, along with treatments you can use to find relief.
Shoulder pain can come in a variety of different forms and can occur for a myriad of reasons. This includes simple overexertion, fractures, arthritis, and even infections or tumors. The most common symptoms include:
- Aching pain
- Limited mobility
According to the CDC, about 9% of all pain episodes in joints are shoulder-related, so knowing the cause and treatments can be invaluable knowledge.
13 common shoulder pain causes and treatments
If you’re from pain, there’s a number of shoulder pain causes that could be contributing to it. Some types of pain have an obvious origin–an injury or overexertion during exercise. For others, the cause may not be so apparent. For example, it could be due to an underlying chronic pain condition. Others may suffer from repetitive stressors in their environment. Something as simple as using your computer mouse everyday in an incorrect way could actually lead to pain.
Nevertheless, there are a few more common causes of pain. These include:
- Rotator cuff injuries and tears
- Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder syndrome
- Shoulder dislocation
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
- Neck pain
- Spinal stenosis
- Tendon sheath inflammation
Let’s talk about each of these in more detail, along with suggested treatments.
1. Rotator cuff injuries and tears
The rotator cuff is the group of four muscles that inhabit the shoulder. They are help stabilize the shoulder and assist in its movement. It is also one of the most common spots for injury, although the rotator cuff can be damaged for months or years before symptoms start to surface. Common symptoms include limited range of motion, difficulty sleeping due to shoulder pain, tenderness when reaching up, and pain in the shoulder especially at night.
There are three main categories of rotator cuff injuries:
- Bursitis is caused by inflammation of the bursa, which are fluid-filled sacs that help the shoulder move and typically occurs after an injury
- Tendinitis is an injury caused by overuse of the shoulder muscles, which causes them to become inflamed
- Finally, there are tears in the shoulder that can be caused by untreated tendinitis or an acute injury
As FamilyDoctor explains, you’ll know when the rotator cuff is hurt if:
“If the rotator cuff is involved, the pain is usually in the front or outside of the shoulder. This pain is usually worse when you raise your arm or lift something above your head. The pain can be bad enough to keep you from doing even the simplest tasks. Pain at night is common, and it may be bad enough to wake you.”
Treatment for a rotary cuff injury depends on the severity of the damage done and which category it falls into. Over 50% of injuries can be fixed using specific exercises and various at-home care options. However, in the worst-case scenario, surgery will be required to fix the tear as range of motion and shoulder strength will not improve without it.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease of aging that is the most common type of arthritis. It is the leading cause of disability in adults in the U.S. In fact, over 1/3rd of adults over the age of 65 suffer from this disorder.
Osteoarthritis occurs in the shoulder when the cartilage that covers the joint starts to break down, although it can occur in any joint. With the breakdown of this protective layer, there comes an increase of friction as the bones of the socket have more direct contact, which can lead to bone damage. Many people experience pain, swelling, stiffness, and a limited range of motion due to this shoulder pain condition.
The treatment for this condition is highly dependent on the person. Some can manage their symptoms with exercise, physical therapy, and medication. Others, however, may require more drastic care in the form of surgery. The surgical treatment can range from cleaning damaged tissue to replacing the joint all together.
3. Adhesive capsulitis
Adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder, is a condition that limits the range of motion in the shoulder. It typically occurs when the tissue in the shoulder thickens and scars, which leaves little space for the joint to rotate properly. The risk of developing this condition increases if you are recovering from other medical conditions that prevent movement of the arms. Signs of this disorder usually start gradually and worsen over time. The symptoms for this condition are swelling, pain, and stiffness.
Frozen shoulder is a condition that becomes worse the less you use your shoulder. While this disorder can go untreated, it can take as long as three years for it to heal naturally. Standard treatment will speed the healing process up tremendously. Treatment includes physical therapy and medications. Physicians will often try interventional procedures such as steroid injections, joint distension, and shoulder manipulation as well. If none of these work, generally surgery is the only other viable option.
You can watch a steroid injection in the following video. This procedure was done on the lower back, but the principles are similar.
4. Shoulder dislocation
Dislocation is another severe cause of shoulder pain that can occur from a forceful impact or fall. When a shoulder is dislocated, the humerus bone is jarred loose from the socket, which can tear ligaments and tendons. This event is extremely painful and you should seek medical attention if it occurs as soon as possible. Improper care can lead to nerve damage and once you dislocate a shoulder, it is much more likely that it could happen again.
Treatment involves a medical professional putting the dislocated shoulder back into the socket, which is called reduction. Afterwards, a standard RICE procedure is recommended and a physician will likely immobilize the arm in a sling for several weeks and prescribe rehabilitation exercise. If shoulder dislocation becomes a chronic condition, surgery might be required to repair the ligaments.
5. Thoracic outlet syndrome
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that develop when the blood vessels or nerves in the thoracic outlet become compressed. This outlet is a small space that is located between the collarbone and the first rib. This typically causes pain in the shoulders and neck along with some numbness in the fingers, and discoloration in the extremities due to inadequate blood flow. These symptoms can worsen when the arm is placed above the shoulders or fully extended.
The exact cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is not always known, but certain conditions can trigger its development it. These include muscle enlargement due to weightlifting, repetitive movement or injuries, severe impacts such as from car accidents, weight gain, and pregnancy.
The treatment for this disorder consists of physical therapy and medication. Doctors will also recommend that you make certain lifestyle changes as well. These can be frequent stretching, avoiding carrying heavy objects, and strengthening the muscles around your thoracic outlet. If none of these approaches work, a doctor will likely recommend surgery.
More shoulder pain causes
In addition to these causes of shoulder pain, some people also suffer from this pain because of:
- Fractures or other injuries
- Neck pain that’s linked to shoulder issues (also called schneck pain)
- Spinal stenosis
- Tendon sheath inflammation (information from HealthLine)
Click each of the links above to learn more about these conditions. Each page discusses symptoms of these conditions, as well as potential treatments for relief.
How do you stop shoulder pain?
If you suffer from pain in your shoulders, there are treatment that can help. Further, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) reports that they’re actively looking for better treatments for pain in the shoulder. They note that they’re studying ways to:
- Improve surgery
- Improve function and reduce pain
- Correct movement patterns that cause shoulder pain in some people with spinal cord damage
- Develop new medicines that help muscles and tendons heal
- Prevent and treat rotator cuff tears
Organizations and healthcare professionals working every day to find better options for patients. Overall, though, the most important thing is to get a diagnosis for your condition. That way you can ensure you’re applying the right treatments to your condition, for the most effective results. A pain specialist can help determine what’s causing your pain and lay out a few treatment options that could work for you.
To find a pain specialist in your area, click the button below. Talking to a highly-trained doctor is the first step on your journey towards relief.