Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is one of the most complex yet flexible joints in the body. It’s built to allow movements in several directions; forward, backward, upward, around in a circle and outward; and it supports most of our basic motions: lifting, throwing, pulling, pushing, etc.

We depend on our shoulders every day and this makes it vulnerable to fatigue and injury. Shoulder problems are very common and may become more frequent with age. Shoulder pain can be abrupt or gradual, and may range from very mild to excruciating.

Common shoulder conditions

Causes of shoulder pain

Most shoulder problems affect a small area and are usually short-lived. However, in some cases the problem could be a part of a wider, long-term illness such as polymyalgia rheumatica (muscle pain and stiffness in shoulders) or osteoarthritis.

Causes of shoulder pain include:

  • Inflammation in the bursa – a fluid-filled sac which allows the tendons and muscles smoothly slide across the shoulder bones
  • Tension in the muscles between the neck and shoulder – this is usually caused by bad posture i.e. the way you sit or stand when you’re at work or using a computer
  • Damage to the muscles and tendons around the shoulder
  • Inflammation – causing swelling and pain in the shoulder – as a natural reaction to an injury or infection
  • Neck problems which can cause a tingling sensation in the arm or hand and pain to erupt in the shoulder or upper arm. This is known as radiated pain or referred pain.

Other causes of shoulder pain are:

  • Infection
  • Tumours
  • Nerve-related problems


Depending on the severity, cause and duration of the pain, doctors recommend different treatment options for patients. They include:


Doctors prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain-relieving drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen, Advil or Naproxen and anti-biotics (to be taken only as directed) to reduce pain and inflammation.

Occupational therapy

This is therapy that teaches a patient how to live independently with some lifestyle changes. Changing your lifestyle (avoiding overexertion, resting, altering normal activities) and learning to adapt to these changes is another way of treating or preventing the pains before they escalate.


Some more serious shoulder problems like rotator cuff tears or recurring dislocation may require surgery to treat. In these cases, surgery will be recommended early on and can involve traditional open procedures for shoulder replacement or larger reconstructions or arthroscopy to repair torn tissues or remove scar tissue.

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