24 May 2024
Discover the common causes of shoulder pain and discomfort, from muscle strains to rotator cuff injuries. Find out what could be causing your nagging ache.

Hey there! Have you ever experienced that uncomfortable feeling when it hurts to lay on your shoulder? Well, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll explore some of the common causes of shoulder pain and discomfort. From muscle strains to rotator cuff injuries, we’ll take a closer look at what might be causing that nagging ache. So, grab a cup of tea, sit back, and let’s uncover the reasons behind your shoulder pain and discomfort.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain and Discomfort

Muscle Strain and Overuse

When it comes to shoulder pain, muscle strain and overuse are common culprits. Repetitive motions, such as those performed during sports activities or certain occupations, can put excessive strain on the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. This can lead to inflammation and discomfort. Muscle imbalances, where certain muscles become stronger or tighter than others, can also contribute to shoulder strain. It is important to be mindful of your body’s limits and to incorporate proper warm-up, stretching, and strengthening exercises into your routine to prevent muscle strain and overuse injuries in the shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that help to stabilize and rotate the shoulder joint. A rotator cuff tear occurs when one or more of these tendons become torn or frayed. This can happen due to a sudden injury or as a result of long-term wear and tear. Rotator cuff tears can cause considerable pain and limit your shoulder’s range of motion. Proper diagnosis and treatment, which may include physical therapy, rest, and sometimes surgery, are crucial for recovery and preventing further damage.


Tendonitis refers to inflammation or irritation of a tendon, which is the thick fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone. In the shoulder, tendinitis can occur in various tendons, including the ones in the rotator cuff and biceps. Overuse, repetitive motions, or poor technique when performing certain activities can contribute to the development of tendonitis. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the shoulder. Rest, ice, physical therapy, and sometimes medication may be recommended to reduce pain and promote healing.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain and Discomfort


Arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the joints. In the shoulder, the two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis typically occurs with age and wear and tear on the joint, leading to the breakdown of cartilage and the development of bone spurs. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, including the shoulder. Both types of arthritis can cause pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion in the shoulder. Treatment options may include pain management techniques, medication, physical therapy, and in severe cases, surgery.


Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion and lubricate the joints. In the shoulder, bursitis commonly affects the subacromial bursa, located between the rotator cuff tendons and a bony prominence called the acromion. Overuse, repetitive motions, or direct trauma can lead to bursitis. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and limited shoulder movement. Treatments for bursitis may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and, in some cases, aspiration or corticosteroid injections.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is unknown, but it commonly occurs after a period of immobilization or as a result of underlying conditions such as diabetes or shoulder injuries. The condition typically progresses through three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing. During the freezing stage, pain and stiffness gradually increase. In the frozen stage, shoulder movement becomes significantly limited. Finally, during the thawing stage, the shoulder slowly regains its range of motion. Treatments for frozen shoulder may include physical therapy, pain management techniques, and in severe cases, surgical intervention.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain and Discomfort

Shoulder Dislocation

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball-shaped end of the arm bone (humerus) pops out of the shoulder socket (glenoid). This can happen due to an impact injury, fall, or extreme twisting motion. Shoulder dislocations are often accompanied by severe pain, swelling, and an obvious deformity of the shoulder. Immediate medical attention is necessary to safely relocate the joint and manage the pain. Following a shoulder dislocation, rehabilitation exercises, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery may be required to restore stability and prevent future dislocations.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become compressed or pinched between the bones of the shoulder joint. This can lead to inflammation, pain, and limited range of motion. Two common types of shoulder impingement are subacromial impingement, where the tendons are compressed beneath the acromion bone, and suprascapular nerve entrapment, where the suprascapular nerve is compressed. Treatment options for shoulder impingement may include rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroid injections, and in some cases, surgery.

Posture and Alignment Problems

Poor posture and alignment can also contribute to shoulder pain. Forward head posture, where the head juts forward from the shoulders, can create strain and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back, including the shoulders. Kyphosis, an exaggerated rounding of the upper back, and scoliosis, an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine, can also affect shoulder alignment and lead to discomfort. Unequal shoulder heights, whether due to congenital abnormalities or musculoskeletal imbalances, can also contribute to shoulder pain. Addressing posture and alignment issues through proper ergonomics, exercises, and postural awareness can help alleviate shoulder pain associated with these conditions.

Inflammatory Conditions

Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and biceps tendonitis can cause significant shoulder discomfort. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can affect multiple joints, including the shoulder, leading to inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Polymyalgia rheumatica, commonly seen in individuals over 50 years old, causes muscle pain and stiffness, often affecting the shoulders and hips. Biceps tendonitis involves inflammation of the biceps tendon, which attaches to the shoulder joint. Symptoms of biceps tendonitis may include pain in the front of the shoulder, weakness, and difficulty lifting objects. Treatment may involve medication, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery.

Nerve Entrapment and Pinched Nerves

Nerve entrapment and pinched nerves can also cause shoulder pain. Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when nerves and blood vessels in the space between the collarbone and first rib become compressed. This can lead to pain, numbness, and weakness in the shoulder and arm. Suprascapular nerve entrapment, mentioned previously, occurs when the suprascapular nerve becomes compressed, resulting in shoulder pain and weakness. Brachial plexus injury, where the bundle of nerves that control movement and sensation in the shoulder and arm are damaged, can also lead to shoulder pain, weakness, and numbness. Treatment for nerve entrapment and pinched nerves may involve physical therapy, medication, and in severe cases, surgery.

Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability refers to a condition where the shoulder joint is prone to dislocation or subluxation (partial dislocation). Labral tears, which involve damage to the ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket, can contribute to shoulder instability. Multidirectional instability occurs when the shoulder is unstable in multiple directions. It can be a result of joint laxity or previous dislocations. Acromioclavicular joint separation, also known as a separated shoulder, occurs when the joint connecting the collarbone and shoulder blade becomes damaged or torn. Treatment options for shoulder instability may include physical therapy, shoulder strengthening exercises, and in some cases, surgery.

Traumatic Injuries

Traumatic injuries, such as fractured clavicle (collarbone), shoulder dislocation, and acromioclavicular joint injury, can cause immediate and intense shoulder pain. Fractured clavicle most commonly occurs due to a fall or direct blow to the shoulder. Shoulder dislocation, already discussed, happens when the humerus pops out of the shoulder socket. Acromioclavicular joint injuries, often seen in contact sports, involve damage to the joint connecting the collarbone and shoulder blade. Immediate medical attention is required for traumatic injuries to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment, which may involve immobilization, physical therapy, and surgery.

Adhesive Capsulitis

Adhesive capsulitis, also known as primary frozen shoulder, is a condition characterized by pain and progressive loss of shoulder movement. The exact cause of primary frozen shoulder is unknown; however, certain factors, such as diabetes, thyroid problems, and previous shoulder injuries, may increase the risk. Secondary frozen shoulder can occur as a result of other shoulder conditions or immobilization. Treatment for adhesive capsulitis may include pain management techniques, physical therapy, stretching exercises, and sometimes manipulation under anesthesia or surgery.

Referred Pain

Referred pain refers to pain felt in one part of the body that is actually caused by a problem in another part. Neck problems, such as cervical spine disorders or herniated discs, can often lead to shoulder pain. Similarly, certain heart conditions, such as a heart attack or angina, may manifest as shoulder pain. Additionally, gallbladder disease can cause shoulder pain that radiates from the abdomen. Identifying the underlying cause of referred pain is crucial for appropriate treatment and management.

In conclusion, shoulder pain can stem from a variety of causes. It is important to pay attention to the body’s signals and seek medical attention if you experience persistent or severe shoulder pain. Proper diagnosis and treatment, which may involve a combination of rest, physical therapy, medication, and sometimes surgery, can help alleviate discomfort and restore functionality to your shoulder. Remember to take care of your shoulder joint through maintaining proper posture, practicing good ergonomics, and engaging in regular exercise to prevent common shoulder problems.

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