Shoulder pain is any pain in or around the shoulder joint.
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body. A group of four tendons in the shoulder, called the rotator cuff, give the shoulder a wide range of motion.
Swelling, damage, or bone changes around the rotator cuff can cause shoulder pain. You may have pain when lifting the arm above your head or moving it forward or behind your back.
The most common cause of shoulder pain occurs when rotator cuff tendons become trapped under the bony area in the shoulder. The tendons become inflamed or damaged. This condition is called rotator cuff tendinitis.
Shoulder pain may also be caused by:
Sometimes, shoulder pain may be due to a problem in another area of the body, such as the neck or lungs. This is called "referred pain." There is usually no pain when moving the shoulder.
Here are some tips for helping shoulder pain get better:
Sudden shoulder pain can sometimes be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 if you have sudden pressure or crushing pain in your shoulder, especially if the pain runs from your chest to the left jaw, arm or neck, or occurs with shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating.
Go to the hospital emergency room if you have just had a severe injury and your shoulder is very painful, swollen, bruised, or bleeding.
Call your health care provider if you have:
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and closely look at your shoulder. You will be asked questions to help the provider understand your shoulder problem.
Blood or imaging tests may be ordered to help diagnose the problem.
Your provider may recommend treatment for shoulder pain including:
Pain - shoulder
DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, et al. Shoulder. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 17.
Greiwe RM, Ahmad CS. Management of the throwing shoulder: cuff, labrum and internal impingement. Orthop Clin North Am. 2010;41:309-323.
Krabak BJ, Banks NL. Adhesive capsulitis. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 10.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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