Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

October 26, 2022
G2 Admin

While reaching for a top shelf, swinging your arms while walking, or just laying still, shoulder pain can be felt – anytime, any day, and during any activity. Depending on the underlying cause, shoulder pain may be mildly uncomfortable, or excruciating. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, it’s important to see an orthopedic shoulder doctor for diagnosis so you can begin the recommended treatment plan without delay.

Clinically, shoulder pain is any form of discomfort around or in the shoulder joint.

The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint made up of the clavicle or collarbone, scapula or shoulder blade, and humerus bone. In addition, other supporting structures, such as the shoulder muscles, rotator cuff tendon, bursa, and bicep tendons, connect to the shoulder joint to form the entire shoulder structure. Together, the bones, ligaments, and tendons of the shoulder joint allow for a wide range of movements compared to other joints in the body. 

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain is common among all age groups, from adolescents to seniors, though its prevalence has been shown to increase with age. When left untreated, shoulder issues may cause immobility, muscle shortening, and stiffness, and can greatly impact the patient’s quality of life.

There are several common causes of shoulder pain, which include:

Shoulder Dislocations 

Shoulder dislocation occurs when the “ball” at the top of the upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket. Dislocation is especially common at the shoulder joint because it is the most flexible joint in the body. Shoulder dislocations can occur from a fall or blow that impacts the shoulder. Common symptoms include pain; reduced mobility; weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arm or hands; swelling, bruising, and redness; and the appearance that the shoulder is out of place or deformed.

Rotator Cuff Tears 

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tears occur due to an injury or develop over time from repetitive stress or strain on the shoulder. Depending on the severity of the tear, you might experience pain, weakness, or instability in your shoulder.

Labral Tears 

A labral tear occurs when there is damage to the thick ring of cartilage that surrounds the socket in the shoulder joint. When the labrum is torn, the ball can slide partially or entirely out of the socket, leading to shoulder pain, instability, “catching” or “locking” sensations, and even dislocation. Labral tears can occur from overuse and repetitive motion, as well as from a traumatic injury such as a fracture or shoulder dislocation. 

SLAP Lesions 

An injury to the part of the shoulder where the biceps tendon attaches to the labrum at the top of the arm is referred to as a SLAP (superior labrum from anterior to posterior) lesion. This type of injury is common in athletes who practice repeated overhead motions, such as baseball pitchers, but can also occur from a fall when a person reaches out an arm to catch themselves. In the case of SLAP lesions, patients often experience intermittent pain, typically when performing an overhead motion, as well as popping or grinding sensations with movement.

Bursitis of the Shoulder

The bursae are sacs surrounding the shoulder joint filled with synovial fluid. They help to reduce friction between the moving parts that make up the shoulder joint. When there is irritation in one or more of the bursae, shoulder bursitis occurs. The surrounding soft tissue then becomes irritated and inflamed, causing shoulder pain.

The most common cause of shoulder bursitis is repetitive use or overuse of the joint. This can occur when playing sports such as tennis or baseball or performing repetitive motion tasks at work, such as painting houses, performing mechanical repairs, or landscaping. 

Shoulder Tendinitis 

Tendons are fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone. When these tendons become inflamed, tendinitis occurs. Shoulder tendinitis is common in athletes who participate in sports that involve throwing or overhead motions such as tennis, baseball, volleyball, softball, and swimming. Because tendons have limited blood supply and thus poor healing potential, tendinitis can be painful and difficult to treat. 


Arthritis is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain, occurring when the shoulder joint becomes inflamed, swollen, and stiff. The most common types are osteoarthritis (wear and tear) and rheumatoid arthritis (auto-immune inflammation). Arthritis of the shoulder can cause mild to severe pain, stiffness, swelling and deformity of the joint.

Sprains and Strains

Shoulder overuse and injuries can cause sprains and strains in the tendons and ligaments that connect the muscles to the bones. A sprain occurs when ligaments are stretched or torn, while a strain occurs due to muscle and tendon tears in the shoulder. Shoulder sprains and strains can result from overuse injuries, accidents, or overexertion during sports activities.

Nerve Impingement

A pinched nerve in the neck may cause shoulder or upper arm pain and numbness, or tingling sensations in the fingers and hand. This pain may be mild or severe and can be accompanied by swelling, weakness and loss of range of motion.

Poor Posture

Slouching while standing or sitting may lead to tightness in the upper back muscles and neck stiffness. These tight muscles pull on your shoulders and cause them to tense up even more. As a result, poor posture while standing, sitting or sleeping leads to an increased shoulder injury and pain risk. Posture is especially important to keep in mind if your job involves sitting at a desk for much or all of the workday.

Heart Attack

Studies have linked incidences of shoulder pain to the period of time right before a heart attack occurs. This pain may be sharp or aching and can be felt in the front of the chest, neck, and back. It may also radiate down the arm or into the upper abdomen. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain and suspect a heart attack, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

Shoulder Injury 

Shoulder injuries are often accompanied by shoulder pain. Pain and stiffness from a shoulder injury may be mild or severe. Shoulder injuries may be due to a disease state or mechanical damage. The most common types of shoulder injuries include:

  • Torn cartilage (meniscus)
  • Tendon rupture
  • Shoulder dislocation
  • Shoulder bone fracture 

What to Do When You Have Shoulder Pain

There are several ways to treat shoulder pain, depending on the cause and severity. These treatments may include:

  • Medications (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) to reduce the inflammation and relieve the pain
  • A program of physical therapy, often combined with home exercises and other treatments, to stretch and help restore motion and function
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Arthroscopic surgery to repair damaged structures in the shoulder
  • Shoulder replacement surgery for severe arthritis

Seek Professional Care for Shoulder Pain at G2 Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Shoulder pain affects people of all ages. However, treatment and proper management of shoulder pain, especially during its initial stages, can help reduce discomfort and any associated lack of mobility. If you’re not sure about the shoulder pain you’re experiencing, visit a shoulder orthopedic.

At G2 Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Dr. Goradia helps patients with shoulder pain understand the cause of their pain while providing the highest quality of care to get you back in motion. He uses a series of clinically-backed evaluation methods to determine the most effective treatment procedures for each patient according to their symptoms and lifestyle.

Get help for shoulder pain today. Please request an appointment online or call us at 804-678-9000 to start your recovery journey.