Definition

Shoulder pain may arise from the shoulder joint itself or from any of the many surrounding muscles, ligaments or tendons. Shoulder pain that comes from the joint usually worsens with activities or movement of your arm or shoulder.

Various diseases and conditions affecting structures in your chest or abdomen, such as heart disease or gallbladder disease, also can cause shoulder pain. Shoulder pain that arises from another structure is called referred pain. Referred shoulder pain usually doesn't worsen when you move your shoulder.

Causes


Shoulder pain causes include:

  1. Avascular necrosis (death of bone tissue due to limited blood flow)
  2. Brachial plexus injury
  3. Broken arm
  4. Broken collarbone
  5. Bursitis (joint inflammation)
  6. Cervical radiculopathy
  7. Dislocated shoulder
  8. Frozen shoulder
  9. Heart attack
  10. Impingement
  11. Osteoarthritis (disease causing the breakdown of joints)
  12. Polymyalgia rheumatica
  13. Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
  14. Rotator cuff injury
  15. Separated shoulder
  16. Septic arthritis
  17. Sprains
  18. Tendinitis
  19. Tendon rupture
  20. Thoracic outlet syndrome
  21. Torn cartilage

When to see a doctor


Call 911 or emergency medical assistance

Shoulder pain accompanied by difficulty breathing or a sense of tightness in the chest may be a symptom of a heart attack and requires immediate medical attention.

Seek immediate medical attention

Ask someone to drive you to urgent care or the emergency room if your shoulder pain is caused by an injury and is accompanied by:

  • A joint that appears deformed
  • Inability to use the joint or move your arm away from your body
  • Intense pain
  • Sudden swelling

Schedule an office visit

Make an appointment with your doctor if your shoulder pain is accompanied by:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Tenderness and warmth around the joint

Self-care

To relieve minor shoulder pain you might try:

  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help.
  • Rest. Avoid using your shoulder in ways that cause or worsen pain.
  • Ice. Apply an ice pack to your painful shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.

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

Angina

Bone spurs

Dislocated shoulder

Ectopic pregnancy

Eyestrain

Frozen shoulder

Gallstones

Hemophilia

Integrative approaches to treating pain

Lifestyle strategies for pain management

Myocardial ischemia

Nutrition and pain

Pain rehabilitation

Pleurisy

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Pseudotumor cerebri

Recurrent breast cancer

Rotator cuff injury

Separated shoulder

Small vessel disease

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)

Tension headache

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Treating pain: Conventional medical care

Treating pain: Overview

Understanding pain