Shoulder pain refers to pain that occurs anywhere in the shoulder region, which includes the collarbone, or clavicle; the shoulder blade, or scapula; and the upper arm bone, or humerus. Compared with many other joints, the shoulders have a wide range of motion because they are ball-and-socket joints. This extended range of motion makes them more susceptible to injury, which makes shoulder pain a fairly widespread condition.
The symptoms of shoulder pain vary widely and depend on the underlying cause of the pain. However, the most common symptoms include sensitivity to touch and temperature; limited or weakened mobility; sudden swelling in the shoulder region; aching pain and redness.
In the vast majority of cases, shoulder pain is caused by an underlying condition. Therefore, doctors immediately try to determine the underlying cause in order to more effectively treat the pain. Shoulder pain usually coincides with inflammation of and/or damage to the muscles, tendons and tissue in and around the shoulders.
Dislocated joints and bone fractures are common causes of shoulder pain, and they typically occur due to car accidents, sports injuries and falls. Many people injure their shoulders at work, and that’s especially true for occupations that require extensive and repeated use of the arms and shoulders.
Other possible causes of shoulder pain include:
- Shoulder Instability – As a ball-and-socket joint, the shoulder can become dislocated. If this happens frequently, chronic shoulder pain can occur.
- Frozen Shoulder – This condition, which is otherwise known as adhesive capsulitis, involves the thickening of the connective tissues that surround the shoulder joints. It most commonly occurs when a person’s shoulder is immobilized for long periods of time, and it’s often triggered by diabetes, heart disease and certain thyroid conditions.
- Arthritis – Arthritis in general, and osteoarthritis in particular, is a very common cause of shoulder pain. With age, bone and cartilage in the shoulder joint wear down, which often leads to chronic pain.
- Pinched Nerve – Tendons and muscles in the region of the shoulder may impinge on nearby nerves to cause numbness, weakness, limited mobility and other symptoms.
- Other Causes – Although they are less common, heart attacks, tumors and internal infections are sometimes to blame for shoulder pain.
The best way to effectively treat shoulder pain is by identifying the underlying condition that’s causing it. To do so, doctors perform thorough physical exams and often order imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs and CT scans.
Treatment often depends on the severity of the symptoms of shoulder pain. A few of the most common options include:
- Mild Pain – To treat mild shoulder pain, physical therapy, icing and heating of the affected area, medications and NSAIDs are all viable options.
- Severe Pain – When shoulder pain is more severe, nerve pain and inflammation may be managed through the use of intra-articular peripheral joint injections.
- Alternatives – Patients also sometimes opt for alternative treatments like acupuncture. Platelet-rich plasma injections are also commonly used to treat and manage shoulder pain.
When all other options have been exhausted, surgery may be prescribed. However, doctors generally only turn to it as a last resort.
Shoulder pain is a very common condition, but that doesn’t mean that people have to learn to live with it. By working with an experienced physician, arriving at an appropriate diagnosis and trying various treatments, most people are able to manage or eliminate their shoulder pain.