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Shoulder pain


Definition

Shoulder pain can be caused by issues with the shoulder joint. Or it can be caused by issues with the surrounding soft tissues. These soft tissues include muscles, ligaments, tendons and bursae. Shoulder pain that comes from the joint often gets worse with arm or shoulder movement.

Also, certain health conditions of the neck, chest or stomach can cause shoulder pain. These include nerve issues in the spine, heart disease and gallbladder disease. When other health issues cause shoulder pain, it's called referred pain. If your shoulder pain is referred, it shouldn't get worse when you move your shoulder.

Causes

Shoulder pain causes include:

  • Avascular necrosis (osteonecrosis) (The death of bone tissue due to limited blood flow.)
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Broken arm
  • Broken collarbone
  • Bursitis (A condition in which small sacs that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles near joints become inflamed.)
  • Cervical radiculopathy
  • Dislocated shoulder
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Heart attack
  • Impingement
  • Muscle strains
  • Osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis)
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Separated shoulder
  • Septic arthritis
  • Sprains (Stretching or tearing of a tissue band called a ligament, which connects two bones together in a joint.)
  • Tendinitis (A condition that happens when swelling called inflammation affects a tendon.)
  • Tendon rupture
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Torn cartilage

When to see a doctor

Call 911 or emergency medical assistance

Shoulder pain along with certain symptoms may signal a heart attack. Seek emergency medical help if you:

  • Have a hard time breathing.
  • Feel tightness in your chest.
  • Are sweating.

Seek immediate medical attention

If you hurt your shoulder by falling or through another accident, get a ride to urgent care or the emergency room. You need urgent medical attention if you have:

  • A shoulder joint that appears deformed after a fall.
  • No ability to use your shoulder or move your arm away from your body.
  • Intense pain.
  • Sudden swelling.

Schedule an office visit

Make an appointment with your care team for shoulder pain if you have:

  • Swelling.
  • Redness.
  • Tenderness and warmth around the joint.
  • Pain that is getting worse.
  • A harder time moving your shoulder.

Self-care

To relieve minor shoulder pain you might try:

  • Pain relievers. Start with topical creams or gels. Products with 10% menthol (Icy Hot, BenGay), or diclofenac (Voltaren) may relieve pain without pills. If those don't work, try other nonprescription pain medicines. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
  • Rest. Don't use your shoulder in ways that cause or worsen pain.
  • Ice. Put an ice pack to your painful shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.

Often, self-care steps and a little time could be all you need to relieve your shoulder pain.

Content Last Updated: 31-Aug-2023
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