The shoulder is a highly mobile joint that involves three large bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Shoulder pain is a common condition caused by injury or damage to the different structures making up the joint. In some cases, an underlying disease in the chest or abdomen area can cause referred pain in the shoulder. Pain or discomfort in the shoulder can negatively affect daily activities. Patients with long-lasting or significant pain should seek advice about potential causes and treatments from a qualified healthcare provider.
Shoulder pain can be caused by acute injuries, more chronic musculoskeletal conditions, and even underlying conditions in other organ systems. Some possible causes of shoulder pain are:
- Broken arm, collarbone, or shoulder blade
- Dislocated shoulder
- Frozen shoulder
- Joint inflammation (e.g. bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis)
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Torn cartilage
- Cervical radiculopathy
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
- Heart attack
It is important to call 911 immediately if you suspect that your shoulder pain is due to a heart attack. In other situations, an individually tailored treatment plan can alleviate symptoms and help address any underlying conditions over time. Determining the cause of pain and the mechanism of injury, if applicable, is important for guiding treatment. Heat therapy and cold therapy can reduce pain and promote healing. A physical therapist can apply manual traction and guide a patient through therapeutic and mobility exercises to improve range of motion and strength. Surgery may be needed for certain cases, such as to fix a broken bone or to address a pain that has not improved with nonsurgical treatment.