Top Causes of Shoulder Pain and How to Prevent It

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the shoulder is the most movable joint in the entire human body. This also explains why shoulder injuries are so common.

“Your shoulders receive their range of motion from four distinct muscles and the tendons surrounding them called the rotator cuff,” said Joshua Sykes, MD, shoulder specialist at UHC Orthopaedics. Difficulty lifting your arms above your head and moving your shoulders forward or backward may be your first indication that something is wrong. Shoulder pain has several causes. It can be due to damage of the bones or soft tissues or swelling in and around the rotator cuff.

Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

The NIH states that pain occurs the most frequently when the rotator cuff and surrounding tissue becomes inflamed from use or gets pinched underneath the bone above the shoulder. The medical name for this condition is bursitis or rotator cuff tendonitis. Other common causes of shoulder pain include:

  • Broken shoulder bone
  • Dislocation of a shoulder joint
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Arthritis in one or more shoulder joints
  • Overuse of tendons located nearby, such as the biceps
  • Frozen shoulder, a condition that occurs when the ligaments located inside the shoulder stiffen and movement becomes painful or challenging

You may also experience shoulder pain due to a problem in another part of the body, such as your neck or arms. This is called referred pain. You typically don’t experience pain when moving the shoulders in this case.

Home and Professional Remedies to Treat Shoulder Pain

“Placing ice on your sore shoulders for 15 minutes at a time and then removing it for 15 minutes can help to decrease pain and swelling. Be sure to place the ice in a cloth before holding it on your skin to avoid giving yourself frostbite,” said Dr. Sykes. “This strategy is most effective when you can repeat it three to four times a day for two to three days and then rest your shoulder for the next few days after that.” Most people find a recliner or sleeping with the head and torso elevated helps decrease pain in the shoulder.

Take ibuprofen or naproxen according to recommendations on the bottle for persistent pain or swelling. It is safe to resume regular activities once you feel comfortable enough to do so. If the above home remedies do not lessen your shoulder pain, please schedule an evaluation at the Bruce Carter United Orthopaedic and Spine Center.

Dr. Sykes will ask you several questions about how you injured your shoulder and your current symptoms. He may also order blood or imaging tests to help diagnose the problem. Possible recommendations for treatment include cortisone injections, physical therapy, or prescription medication. Surgery is a last resort when more conservative methods fail to work.

Sudden Shoulder Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

Sudden and extreme pain in one or both shoulders could be a symptom of a heart attack. Please call 9-1-1 or have someone bring you to the nearest hospital emergency room for immediate evaluation. The pain is often crushing and can run from your arm, jaw, or neck to your shoulder. Dizziness, shortness of breath, or sweating that accompanies severe shoulder pain can be a warning sign of a heart attack as well. We also encourage you to go to the emergency room if your injury just occurred and you notice bleeding, significant bruising, severe pain, or excessive swelling.

How to Prevent Injuries to Your Shoulder

It’s always easier to prevent a shoulder injury than to treat one. Here are several tips for keeping your shoulders pain-free and injury-free:

  • Decrease the stress on your shoulders by performing strengthening exercises for your back, neck, arm, and shoulder muscles
  • Stretch and complete several minutes of warm-up exercises before any period of prolonged physical activity
  • Maintain proper posture by standing up straight and relaxed without slumping
  • Always wear your seatbelt in the car, whether you’re the driver or a passenger
  • Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy to manage on your own
  • Try to avoid overusing your arms and alternate hands while working, completing housework or childcare, or engaging in hobbies
  • Avoid keeping your arms raised over your head for long periods, such as when painting
  • Wear protective gear when playing sports so an injury to one area doesn’t cause you to compensate by overusing your shoulders

Your shoulder muscles and tendons work hard every day. Be sure to give them plenty of time to rest from the constant motion. For more information or to schedule an appointment please call UHC Orthopaedics at 681-342-3500.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.