The shoulder has several joints that connect to muscles and tendons to allow significant mobility in the arm. Despite this, excessive or unusual activity increases the risk of developing shoulder pain. The discomfort may be constant, or only when the arm is moved. It could be a fleeting ailment or require diagnosis and treatment by a doctor. Pinpointing the cause of shoulder pain can be tricky, especially in the absence of injury. Each of the several conditions that cause pain in the shoulder presents unique symptoms.



Bursae are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that line joints and cushion the bones. Excessive movement can cause swelling, and inflammation of the bursa in a part of the shoulder called the rotator cuff. The pain usually goes away after a few weeks with rest, though it may flare on occasion.

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Shoulder instability happens with the top of the humerus — the upper arm bone — pops out of the shoulder socket. It can occur due to injury or from constant overuse. Often called dislocation, instability may be partial or complete. Recurring dislocations put a person at risk of arthritis and cause pain or instability while lifting the arm.

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Tendon Tears

Tendon tears happen from injury or as a normal part of aging. The tendon may tear only slightly, or it could completely disconnect from the bone. These are a common injury and often affect the rotator cuff. While medication won't help heal the tendon — rest is essential — it can relieve pain and make the injured person more comfortable.

tendon tear at the shoulder Rasi Bhadramani / Getty Images


A fractured shoulder can cause intense pain and discomfort. Older people often experience a broken shoulder if they fall, while younger people usually incur these injuries from car accidents or contact sports. Anyone who suspects they have fractured their shoulder should seek medical attention because some more complicated injuries require surgery. Until the person can be taken to a doctor, place an ice pack to the shoulder and keep the arm still.

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There are two forms of tendonitis, acute and chronic. Acute cases result from overhead motions like throwing or lifting, while chronic issues may stem from degenerative diseases like arthritis. Calcific tendonitis involves a build-up of calcium deposits that rub against the tendons, causing severe pain. In some cases, injections of cortisone can help alleviate the pain.

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Osteoarthritis is a common cause of shoulder pain. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness, usually beginning in middle-aged people. Osteoarthritis starts slowly and gets worse with time. It can be triggered by an injury or from daily wear and tear. The first line of treatment is rest, activity modification, and icing the inflamed area.

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Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. Symptoms start slowly and get worse over time. The good news is that the condition generally goes away on its own, but it can take up to three years. Some corticosteroids and numbing medications lower pain, improving mobility.

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Shoulder impingement happens when the shoulder blade presses on the soft tissues underneath. When the arm lifts, a part of the shoulder blade rubs against the tendons of the rotator cuff, causing pain and limiting movement. Treatment involves gentle stretching and avoiding overhead motions until it feels better. Anti-inflammatory medication may help with discomfort.

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A SLAP tear happens over time from continuous overhead motions. Athletes often develop this tear from throwing a ball, playing tennis, or swimming. The tear affects the rim of cartilage around the shoulder socket and causes an achy feeling that is hard to pinpoint. A doctor may recommend physical therapy exercises and anti-inflammatory medications to help with the pain.

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Winged Scapula

A winged scapula is recognizable by the way the shoulder blade sticks out, rather than lying flat against the chest wall. People with poor posture are likely to develop this condition, which causes considerable pain and discomfort. Treatment often involved surgery, but a doctor may suggest physical therapy, especially for older adults.

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