Shoulder Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

This affliction is characterized by pain and discomfort in this common area, which can sometimes also be experienced irradiated in the neck.

Commonly, shoulder pain is defined as pain or discomfort within the shoulder region.

The shoulder is an extremely used joint and, as such, has an increased risk of injury.

The joint shoulder includes:

  1. The clavicle.
  2. The scapula (scapula).
  3. The upper arm bone (humerus).

The shoulder joint itself is a spherical joint that is one of the most mobile joints in the body. It attaches to the scapula on the head of the humerus.

Interestingly, there is very little interaction between these two bones, probably explaining their high degree of mobility.

The shoulder joint also consists of four muscle groups and tendons to stabilize the joint. The shoulder joint is in constant motion.


It can be a source of pain and discomfort for many people.

Causes of shoulder pain

There is a wide range of underlying causes of an episode of shoulder pain.

In most cases, the symptoms of pain and discomfort are an indication of:

  • A possible hidden injury.
  • Inflammation.
  • Other damage to muscles, connective tissue, or musculoskeletal tissue.

Common causes of shoulder pain include:

Rotator cuff tendonitis

One of the most common conditions that cause pain is rotator cuff tendinitis.

This condition occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become irritated or inflamed, usually as a result of excessive use, straining, or repetitive movements.

Injury and instability

Broken bones or a dislocated joint can also cause redness, swelling, and high degrees of pain in the shoulder area.

They usually occur due to a fall, a sports injury, or an injury sustained during a car accident.

Pain can also be reported more frequently among workers of specific jobs.

For example, construction workers or professional athletes constantly use the shoulder joint, in particular, for extreme exertion or weightlifting.

Therefore, this effort and excessive use can lead to chronic symptoms of pain and discomfort.

Shoulder instability can also be a source of significant degrees of pain. This condition occurs when the shoulder joint is dislocated due to injury or overuse.

This type of injury also places the connective tissue and muscles of the joint at risk of injury.

Dislocations that occur frequently can further damage the surrounding structures, making them more likely to continue to happen. In addition, this can cause arthritis or other tissue damage and symptoms of chronic pain.


Another prevalent source of pain is arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis usually develops in the shoulder and progresses slowly as the personage.

It is believed that this deterioration results from typical wear and tear of daily use and a percentage of patients suffering from osteoarthritis due to infection and inflammation.

Pinched nerve

Some people may suffer severe symptoms of painful shoulders due to a pinched nerve inside the shoulder.

This may occur due to nerve compression of nearby muscles or tendons.

The compression exerted on the nerve can damage the ability of the nerve to transmit information.

This can lead to:

  • Incredible sensations.
  • Weakness.
  • Restricted mobility in the shoulder joint.

This is the most frequent cause of pain in the shoulder due to a pinched nerve in the cervical spine.

Capsulitis adhesiva

Also known as frozen shoulder, this is characterized by loss of mobility due to a thickening of the various connective tissue structures surrounding the shoulder joint.

It is believed that people with diabetes, heart disease, and other thyroid conditions are more at risk of developing frozen shoulder symptoms.

In addition, people whose shoulder has been immobilized for an extended period are also at greater risk.

Infection or tumors

In rare cases, the pain may be caused by infections or tumors that may impede movement or cause discomfort.


The symptoms of this type of pain tend to vary widely. The most commonly reported symptoms of shoulder pain include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Redness
  • Joint sensitivity
  • Weakness.
  • Limited mobility.
  • Heat sensation around the joint.
  • Sensitivity to temperature or touch.

Diagnosis of shoulder pain

If you suffer from pain that significantly affects your quality of life in general, speaking with a specialist to obtain a diagnosis and treatment options is advisable.

In extreme cases, other health professionals who can help include physiotherapists, chiropractors, or orthopedic surgeons.

To begin the diagnosis, the doctor will perform:

  • A physical exam
  • Review the medical history.
  • Imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, ultrasound, or tomography.

These imaging tests are usually used to help determine the degree of severity of the condition.

They can also help identify conditions derived from problems in the cervical spine.

Once your find the proper diagnosis, treatment planning can begin.


Treatments range from home remedy options to more advanced therapies or surgery.

Common treatments include:

  • Cold and heat therapies.
  • Massages
  • Medications (analgesics)
  • Physical therapy.
  • Stretches or shoulder exercises.
  • Articular injections
  • Alternative treatments.
  • Surgery.

You can use home remedies for milder pain cases in severity before taking medications. For example, the doctor may recommend ice or heat therapy.

With this therapy, place a hot or cold compress over the area for no more than twenty minutes.

Home treatments include exercises or stretches to strengthen the muscles that surround the joint.

The configuration of office furniture may also be reviewed. A misplaced chair or desk can often cause symptoms due to repetitive stress.

Massage can also help reduce tension in the shoulder muscles.

Another simple option if you are suffering from pain in the neck is a series of exercises to reduce tension. Physiotherapy can be incredibly useful in relieving pain.

In this treatment technique, several stretches and particular exercises are recommended to help strengthen and eliminate the connective and muscular tissue pressure located under the shoulder.

Physical therapy can correct the problem with the shoulder in the first place.

Some patients may need to take medication to help them during this initial stage of treatment.

If these non-invasive options of home remedies do not work, you should consider prescribing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen or ibuprofen.

The treatment options available to control the symptoms can vary from methods applied in the home to more interventionist approaches, such as intraarticular peripheral joint injections.

There are intra-articular injections that contain corticosteroids that help reduce inflammation. This, in turn, can help reduce pain and increase the range of motion. Currently, they are considered an option along with physical therapy.

A couple of alternative treatment methods are available that do not involve medications, including therapies such as acupuncture and platelet-rich plasma injections.

These treatments can provide relief to patients with relatively few side effects.

In cases of severe pain, surgical correction may be the only option to return the individual to normal functioning status.

Surgery can solve shoulder problems, but most patients with shoulder pain will respond to home treatment methods such as changing activities, rest, exercise, and medications.

Some problems of shoulder pain, such as dislocations and tears of the rotator cuff, do not benefit from exercise, but in these cases, surgery is recommended.

Surgery may include arthroscopy in which scar tissue is removed, broken tissues are repaired, or procedures for reconstructions or replacements of shoulder structures.