The shoulder has the largest and most versatile movement range of any joint in the human body. Multiple components work together to ensure the shoulders retain their usual range of motion and are capable of doing their jobs.
When there’s an issue with the shoulder, it can range from mild discomfort to a debilitating injury that interferes with an individual’s day-to-day life. An injured shoulder isn’t able to move with the same freedom.
Many individuals don’t realize how much they move their shoulders until the movement becomes restricted. Several different conditions and injuries can lead to shoulder pain.
5 Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain
Knowing how to recognize the causes of shoulder pain can help individuals determine whether to use at-home self-care steps or talk to a doctor.
1. Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
The most common causes of shoulder pain is a condition called rotator cuff tendinitis. There are some cases of this condition where the pain is milder.
However, when the discomfort reaches levels high enough for a patient to seek out the advice of a doctor, the underlying condition is most often rotator cuff tendinitis. This condition affects the muscles and tendons that move the shoulder joint.
Tendinitis is a condition that occurs when the tendons in the body have become irritated or inflamed. Rather than appearing all at once, the symptoms tend to come on gradually and get worse with time.
Sometimes the condition results from keeping the shoulder in a single position without moving it, sleeping on the same shoulder in the same position every night, or repeatedly lifting the arm above the head when engaging in physical activity.
It’s common for athletes to develop rotator cuff tendinitis, especially if they play tennis, pitch in baseball, or swim.
2. Impingement Syndrome
For an individual to have impingement syndrome, they must have sustained an injury to the muscles that stretch between the bones of the shoulder.
A syndrome is a collection of symptoms without a known unifying cause. Sometimes the cause of impingement syndrome is rotator cuff tendinitis, and sometimes it’s a different type of muscle injury.
The majority of patients with this type of injury can recover by following an exercise plan, stretching the injured area, using medication to manage pain and heal the muscle, and avoiding engaging in repeated motions over the head.
Shoulder bursitis is another condition that might be linked to impingement syndrome. This occurs when the bursae that cushion the shoulder joint become inflamed, leading to pain and irritation.
3. Pinched Nerve in The Neck or Shoulder
Temporary shoulder pain may be caused by a pinched nerve in the neck or shoulder. Pinched neck nerves occur when nearby structures press against a nerve or irritate a nerve that flows from the neck to the shoulder.
The pressure on the nerve causes pain signals to be sent to the brain. It’s common for individuals with a pinched nerve to experience aching, throbbing, or stabbing pain in the shoulder.
Depending on how seriously compressed the nerve is, patients might also experience some level of numbness in the hand and arm attached to the affected shoulder.
The potential for this varies, since different nerves are responsible for carrying signals from different portions of the body.
If the pinched nerve is compressed severely enough for its signals to become interrupted or stopped altogether, this can lead to noticeable problems in the arm. Some pinched shoulder nerves are caused by acute injuries or slow bodily changes.
The most common material pinching the shoulder is some kind of bone or disk protrusion from the spinal cord, but other swollen muscle or tendon tissue is also possible.
There are many different kinds of arthritis, which is a condition involving damage to the joints, most of which have wildly different causes. In fact, more than one hundred unique types of arthritis have been identified.
Not all types lead to shoulder pain, but shoulder pain from arthritis is fairly common. For some individuals, pain in the shoulder is the first sign of developing arthritis.
In older individuals, arthritis of the shoulder can sometimes occur when the cartilage in the joint begins to wear away, causing the bones to grind painfully against each other when the ball and socket joint moves.
Patients who have arthritis in their shoulder will often experience feelings of stiffness and a reduced overall range of motion in addition to the pain.
Depending on the type of arthritis a patient has, their doctor may recommend medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. If the damage to the joints is severe enough, patients might need to have surgery to repair the injury.
5. Dislocated Shoulder
Dislocated shoulders occur when the upper bone in the arm becomes popped out of its usual place in the shoulder socket. Ordinarily, the bone is cradled by the cup-shaped socket, which allows for a wider range of motion.
The shoulder is more likely to dislocate than any other joint because of the incredibly wide range of motion. Individuals who believe their shoulder might be dislocated should get medical help right away.
A medical professional can push the arm bone back into place. In the majority of cases, patients can heal from the injury and have the full use of their joint after a few weeks.
One thing to note, though, is the shoulder might become unstable after the initial dislocation. An individual who has dislocated their shoulder once is more susceptible to future dislocations.