Your shoulder is a complex ball and joint socket that has a wide and versatile range of motion. When something is wrong with your shoulder, it can inhibit your ability to move freely while also causing you a great deal of pain and discomfort.
Your shoulder has three main bones: the humerus, or long arm bone, the clavicle, or collarbone, and the scapula, or shoulder blade.
All of these bones are cushioned by a layer of cartilage and there are two main joints. The joint that lies between the highest part of the scapula and the clavicle is known as the acromioclavicular joint. The joint that’s found at the top of the ball-shaped part of your humerus and the outer edge of the scapula is the glenohumeral or shoulder joint.
Your shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in your entire body. It has the ability to move your shoulder both forward and backward. If you really stop and think about the movement that your shoulder allows, it’s pretty incredible, right?
Your shoulder gets that range of motion from your rotator cuff, which is made up of four tendons. These tendons are the tissues that connect your muscles to your bones. When the tendons or bones around your rotator cuff are swollen or damaged, it can become difficult to lift your arm over your head without pain.
Shoulder injuries are very common, particularly when manual labor, sports, or repetitive motion is involved. There are also certain diseases that can bring about pain in the shoulder. These can include diseases affecting the cervical spine or neck as well as your liver, heart, or gallbladder.
The older you get, the more likely that you’ll develop problems with your shoulder, especially beyond the age of 60. This is because, as we age, the soft tissues that surround the shoulder begin to degenerate. Unfortunately, this is all part of the natural aging process that we all must go through.
In some cases, you can treat the pain in your shoulder at home. However, in other situations, you may need the help of a physical therapist, medications, or surgery to correct the problem, stop the pain, and regain range of motion.
We’re going to talk about everything you need to know when it comes to shoulder pain, including what symptoms to look out for, home remedies, and when it’s time to take a trip to the doctor.
What Causes Pain In The Shoulder?
There are a number of factors and conditions that can cause shoulder pain. The most common form of pain is caused by rotator cuff tendinitis, a condition characterized by swollen tendons.
Another common cause is impingement syndrome, which happens when your rotator cuff gets caught between the part of the scapula that covers the ball and the ball portion of the humerus.
Lastly, shoulder pain can be the result of an injury to another area of your body like your neck or biceps. This type of pain is called referred pain and it generally doesn’t worsen when you move your shoulder around.
Some other causes of pain in your shoulder can include the following:
- Torn rotator cuff or torn cartilage
- Swollen bursa sacs or tendons
- Bone spurs (bony protrusions that develop along the outside edges of your bones)
- A pinched nerve in your neck or shoulder
- A broken arm or shoulder bone
- Frozen or dislocated shoulder
- Repetitive use injury
- Injury to your spinal cord
- Heart attack
What Can Cause Shoulder Pain Without Injury?
More often than not, the cause of your shoulder pain is due to an injury, however, things like arthritis and heart attacks can also cause this type of pain.
If your pain is sudden and not related to an accident or injury, call 911 right away as this may be a sign that you’re experiencing a heart attack. Other signs of a heart attack to look out for include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightness in your chest
- Excessive sweating
- Pain in you neck or jaw
How Do I Know If My Shoulder Pain Is Serious?
There are several signs and symptoms that indicate that there’s a serious issue with your shoulder and that you need to seek medical attention. Below are some symptoms that indicate an issue that requires medical attention:
- Your shoulder is visibly deformed
- You’re unable to move your shoulder at all
- Your pain is severe
- There is severe, sudden swelling
- Your arm or hand feels weak and numb
- You see bleeding, swelling, or exposed tissue
Situations that Require Immediate Medical Attention
If you’re experiencing any of the following, you need to contact your doctor right away:
- Inability to move your shoulder
- Bruising that does not go away
- Heat and tenderness on the joint
- Pain that persists in spite of home treatments
How Do Doctors Diagnose The Cause of Shoulder Pain?
If your shoulder pain is intense enough that you need to visit your doctor, they’re going to want to get to the bottom of what’s causing your pain. They’ll first discuss with you your medical history and perform a physical examination.
They’ll be looking for swelling or tenderness in your shoulder. They’ll also assess your joint stability and range of motion, or lack thereof. Next, imaging tests may be ordered to get a closer look inside your shoulder at what’s going on. These tests may include an X-ray or MRI.
How Do I Get My Shoulder to Stop Hurting?
If you’re dealing with shoulder pain that is without any of the emergency signs and symptoms listed above, then you may be wondering how you can stop your shoulder from hurting and get back on with your life, right?
Of course, you are. The treatment that will ease your pain will be dependent on the cause and severity of your shoulder pain. Sometimes you can treat yur pain at home, while other situations call for physical or occupational therapy, wearing a shoulder sling or immobilizer, or even surgery.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to ease the pain and reduce the swelling. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications) or corticosteroids are often the go-to choices. Corticosteroids can be taken by mouth or can be injected into your shoulder to feel pain relief.
For injuries that are minor and not urgent in nature, you may be able to heal and repair it at home. You will likely be advised to ice your shoulder three to four times per day for between 15 and 20 minutes per day.
Additionally, it’s best to avoid using your shoulder the best you can for a few days before resuming your normal activities. By resting your shoulder and avoiding any overhead movements, you can allow your body the time it needs to heal and soothe a minor injury.
You can also use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to help reduce your pain and minimize any inflammation. Compressing the area may also help reduce swelling.
Can I Prevent Shoulder Pain?
It’s not feasible to tell you to avoid all activities that use your shoulder, as we use our shoulders an innumerable amount of times throughout our daily lives. However, there are some simple self-care steps you can take to avoid shoulder pain and injury.
By performing simple shoulder stretches and strength training exercises, you can strengthen your muscles and tendons in your shoulder. For the best advice and form, go see a physical or occupational therapist.
If you have a history of shoulder issues, you can use ice on your shoulder for 15 minutes following exercise to prevent injury.