Shoulder pain is one of the most annoying and uncomfortable pains that exist. It seems that however you position your body and whatever you do, the pain just won’t go away.
Even though we aren’t medical professionals, we’ve done our research on this topic to try to help guide you to the solution to your health problem. In this article, you’ll find out about shoulder pain causes, how to treat this issue, and how to try and prevent it in the future.
What Causes Shoulder Pain?
When you’ve suffered an injury, it’s easy to figure out why your shoulder hurts. The real trouble occurs when you can’t pinpoint the reason you’re suddenly experiencing discomfort or pain. Though it’s not necessarily like that in every case, shoulder pain can be a symptom of other underlying issues.
While arthritis usually occurs in other parts of the body, it can affect the shoulders, too. What happens is that the cartilage starts wearing down and affects the socket of the shoulder joint. In some cases, you can also feel pressure on the ball of the joint.
Shoulder joint pain doesn’t happen overnight but rather gradually. The cartilage breaks down over time, which is why arthritis is more common among older people. Arthritis can also affect other parts of the body, most notably the knee. If you’re experiencing issues with your knee(s) as well, you might benefit from learning more about the causes of knee pain.
If you have arthritis, you’ll also notice other symptoms:
- Joint stiffness – The best indicator is the range of motion you’re able to produce. If you can’t move your shoulder or arm the way you used to, or if you experience severe shoulder pain when you try to move it, you might have arthritis.
- Clicking or grinding – You’ll be able to feel your shoulder slip into different positions from time to time. Experiencing shoulder lock-up is also common. This happens because the surface of the cartilage is irregular.
With arthritis, pain can occur in the back, side, or front of your shoulder. In some cases, it can even be felt when you’re not doing anything with your arm. You might also feel pain in the neck and shoulder radiating down the arm. Therefore, avoiding lifting and carrying heavy things is advisable.
Torn Rotator Cuff
Much like arthritis, torn rotator cuffs happen due to gradual wearing down of the tendon. In fact, it’s normal for the tendon to degenerate with age.
The tear can cause intense pain, most often in the dominant arm. This condition basically means that the head of the humerus is no longer fully attached to the tendon, in which case you may even experience shoulder pain from sleeping. Aside from aging, a torn rotator cuff can happen because of bone spurs, a lack of blood supply, and repetitive stress.
Bone overgrowth can happen with aging, too, and it causes the spur to rub against the cuff tendon when lifting your arms. Age is also the reason behind the low blood supply to your shoulder, which interferes with your body’s ability to fix tendon damage.
Finally, people who put repetitive pressure on their shoulders or overuse them daily are at higher risk of a torn rotator cuff. This is a common injury in sports such as weightlifting, rowing, baseball, and tennis.
Other symptoms that can co-occur with pain in the shoulder include:
- The inability to lift or rotate your arm, or feeling a significant amount of pain when you do.
- Crackling and grinding sensation in certain positions.
- Specific movements causing pain to travel down your arm, specifically when lowering or lifting it.
Pain can persist even when you’re resting. If you often have trouble falling asleep because of it and have to avoid sleeping on one side of your body, it might be wise to consult your doctor about the possibility of this particular diagnosis.
Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is one of the potential shoulder pain causes. The condition got its name because the main symptom (besides pain and stiffness) is limited arm motion.
The condition is accompanied by shoulder stiffness, and the symptoms usually begin showing up gradually, worsening over time. The condition typically lasts 1–3 years. If you’ve had a medical procedure that restricts your arm movement during recovery, you are at higher risk of developing this condition.
Adhesive capsulitis usually occurs in stages.
- In the freezing stage, you start noticing more and more shoulder muscle pain and stiffness as you try to move your shoulder and arm. In some cases, the symptoms become significantly worse in a short time frame. Usually, the first stage lasts between six weeks and nine months.
- The second stage is characterized by the overwhelming interference with your daily life. Due to shoulder stiffness, it becomes hard to do activities you used to. The pain may even be less present, but the stiffness won’t go away.
- Finally, you’ll enter the recovery stage, when both the pain and stiffness start weakening. Your strength and normal range of motion return bit by bit. Also, you’ll gradually stop experiencing shoulder pain when lifting your arm. This stage lasts anywhere between six months and two years.
Repeating the same uncomfortable movement every day can cause chronic shoulder pain. With most people, this happens because of the type of work they do. Physical labor can be straining for the shoulder, especially if your job involves lifting heavy objects.
On the other hand, sitting in an office all day without paying attention to your posture can cause the same issue.
Other causes of shoulder pain include exposing your shoulder to pressure consistently, forcing your muscles to hold your body in one position for a long time, and extreme temperatures.
The good news is that this kind of pain is relatively easily preventable and treatable. Shoulder muscle pain is best treated with certain lifestyle changes. Pay attention to your posture and how much pressure you expose your shoulders to in day-to-day life.
Sometimes, a pinched nerve can cause severe shoulder pain. This usually happens when bone spurs (overgrowth) develop around the spinal discs.
Spinal discs tend to weaken as you age, causing new bone formations to grow in order to strengthen them. However, the same new growth can accidentally impose pressure onto the nerves located in the spine.
While it isn’t always so obvious that a pinched nerve could be one of your potential shoulder pain causes, other symptoms and the type of pain you experience can be strong indicators that this is, in fact, the real issue.
Other symptoms include:
- Neck pain accompanied with headaches at the back of your head
- Numbness and pins-and-needles sensations in your shoulder
- Pain that extends down to the arm and hand.
Patients mostly describe the pain they experience as sharp and usually occurring in only one shoulder.
Shoulder Pain Treatment
Depending on the issue, you’ll need to look into different treatment options for your pain. These are, of course, best discussed with your doctor. We’re here to provide some ideas and introduce you to common treatments for the issues listed above.
Arthritis Treatment Options
If your doctor diagnoses you with arthritis, they may suggest surgical and nonsurgical treatment options.
Surgical options would be:
- Total shoulder arthroplasty – The glenoid and the head of the humerus are replaced by a plastic cup and a metal ball. The cup is fitted into the glenoid, while the ball is attached to the head of the humerus.
- Hemiarthroplasty – Shoulder joint pain is relieved by replacing the head of the humerus only.
- Reverse total shoulder arthroplasty – The procedure is basically the opposite of total shoulder arthroplasty, in the sense that the plastic cup is fixed to the head of the humerus, while the ball is fixed to the glenoid.
Nonsurgical options include:
- Different lifestyle changes (to avoid provoking pain)
- Icing your shoulder multiple times a day, or heating it to reduce the pain
- Adding supplements like chondroitin or glucosamine to your diet
- Physical therapy
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment
Just like with arthritis, there are surgical and nonsurgical shoulder pain treatment options for rotator cuff tears. However, it’s more likely for your doctor to recommend nonsurgical options, as they tend to work well for a lot of people.
The following nonsurgical options work for both chronic and acute types of rotator cuff injuries:
- Cortisone shots
- Wearing a sling and resting the arm
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Applying hot or cold packs multiple times a day to reduce swelling and pain.
Exercises for Shoulder Pain
Exercise can be a great way to prevent shoulder pain and ensure your shoulder remains healthy. Of course, you have to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly, so as not to put repetitive pressure on your shoulder and cause the exact issue you’re trying to prevent.
Strengthening exercises are also the number-one way to ease pain stemming from frozen shoulders and repetitive use. Remember, the key to preventing neck and shoulder pain and strengthening these parts of your body is consistency. Here are some of the most useful exercises for strengthening your shoulders, relieving pain, and preventing future problems.
This exercise is performed by relaxing your shoulders first, then standing and leaning over slightly so that you can let the affected arm hang. In this position, start swinging your arms in a circle.
The exercise should be done once a day, with ten clockwise and ten counterclockwise swings. Start with a small diameter, then slowly increase it as your shoulder gets stronger.
You won’t need any equipment to complete this neck and shoulder pain exercise, though it can be quite demanding.
First, stand in front of a wall at the distance of three-quarters of your arm length. Use the arm that hurts to touch the wall at waist level. Make sure to touch the surface with only your fingertips. Bend your elbow slightly and start walking your fingers up the wall until your arm is at shoulder level.
If it hurts to raise it this far, walk the fingers up to a comfortable height and go a bit higher each day. Once you reach your desired height for the day, slowly lower your arm and repeat the exercise. Do this exercise 10–20 times a day for the most noticeable shoulder pain relief.
The most important part is to use only the muscles of your fingers instead of using the muscles in your shoulder and arm.
For this exercise, you’ll need a longer towel. Hold it with both hands behind your back in a horizontal position and use the arm that doesn’t hurt to pull the towel upward. This movement will also pull the arm that hurts and stretch it significantly. This exercise should be repeated ten to twenty times daily.
Armpit Stretches for Shoulder Pain
Stand in front of a shelf or counter surface that reaches your chest height. Lift the arm that hurts with the arm that doesn’t and place it onto the surface. Bend your knees gently to open up your shoulder. To stretch the armpit, bend your knees a little more and then straighten them completely.
Ideally, you should bend your knees a little further each time, but you definitely shouldn’t force anything. The first time you do this exercise, see what feels best and only bend your knees as far as it feels comfortable. Each next time you do the exercise, try to push your limits just a little further. It’s recommended to do this exercise ten to twenty times every day.
For shoulder pain exercises of this type, you’ll need to make use of a closed door and a rubber exercise band. You should hook the band around the doorknob and hold the other end of the band with the hand on the affected side of the body.
Make sure to hold your elbow at a ninety-degree angle. You should pull the band to your body and hold it for five seconds before releasing, and then repeat the exercise. This should strengthen your shoulder significantly, but you have to exercise ten to fifteen times a day.
Shoulder pain causes can be quite diverse and, therefore, not simple to identify. This article should provide some clarity as to why the pain might be there, but it’s always a much better idea to visit your doctor. No one should have to live in constant suffering, and getting a professional to examine you will give you more treatment options and peace of mind.