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Shoulder pain

Pain - shoulder

Shoulder pain is any pain in or around the shoulder joint.

 

Test Your Shoulder Pain Knowledge

  • The shoulder is the most movable joint in the human body.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Rotator cuff problems are the most common cause of shoulder pain.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Which of the following can cause rotator cuff problems?

     

    A. Keeping your arm in the same position for a long time, such as doing computer work

     

    B. Sleeping on the same arm each night

     

    C. Playing sports that use your arm in an overhead motion such as tennis, baseball, swimming, and lifting weights

     

    D. Working with your arm overhead (such as painting and carpentry)

     

    E. Falling on your arm while it is stretched out

     

    F. All of the above

    Correct Answer
  • Symptoms of rotator cuff problems include:

     

    A. Pain when lifting your arm overhead or to the side

     

    B. Pain in the front of the shoulder

     

    C. Pain when lying on your shoulder

     

    D. Weakness and loss of motion of your shoulder

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
  • If you have shoulder pain from rotator cuff problems, self-care involves using:

     

    A. Heat

     

    B. Ice

     

    C. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

     

    D. Ibuprofen (Motrin) or Naproxen (Aleve)

     

    E. B and D

     

    F. All of the above

    Correct Answer
  • Changing your posture can help relieve shoulder pain.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Other ways to ease the strain on your shoulder include:

     

    A. Avoid carrying a backpack or purse over just one shoulder.

     

    B. Lift and carry objects close to your body. Try not to lift heavy loads away from your body.

     

    C. When reaching for something with your arm, point your thumb up.

     

    D. Wear a sling.

     

    E. All of the above.

     

    F. A, B, and C

    Correct Answer
  • Physical therapy can help treat shoulder pain.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • If you have a rotator cuff tear, you will need surgery.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Sudden shoulder pain can be a sign of a heart attack.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer

Considerations

The shoulder is the most movable joint in the human body. A group of four muscles and their tendons, called the rotator cuff, give the shoulder its wide range of motion.

Swelling, damage, or bone changes around the rotator cuff can cause shoulder pain. You may have pain when lifting the arm above your head or moving it forward or behind your back.

 

Causes

The most common cause of shoulder pain occurs when rotator cuff tendons become trapped under the bony area in the shoulder. The tendons become inflamed or damaged. This condition is called rotator cuff tendinitis or bursitis.

Shoulder pain may also be caused by:

  • Arthritis in the shoulder joint
  • Bone spurs in the shoulder area
  • Bursitis, which is inflammation of a fluid-filled sac (bursa) that normally protects the joint and helps it move smoothly
  • Broken shoulder bone
  • Dislocation of the shoulder
  • Shoulder separation
  • Frozen shoulder, which occurs when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments inside the shoulder become stiff, making movement difficult and painful
  • Overuse or injury of nearby tendons, such as the bicep muscles of the arms
  • Tears of the rotator cuff tendons
 

Sometimes, shoulder pain may be due to a problem in another area of the body, such as the neck or lungs. This is called referred pain. There is usually pain at rest and no worsening of pain when moving the shoulder.

Home Care

Here are some tips for helping shoulder pain get better:

  • Put ice on the shoulder area for 15 minutes, then leave it off for 15 minutes. Do this 3 to 4 times a day for 2 to 3 days. Wrap the ice in cloth. Do not put ice directly on the skin because this can result in frostbite.
  • Rest your shoulder for the next few days.
  • Slowly return to your regular activities. A physical therapist can help you do this safely.
  • Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) may help reduce inflammation and pain.

Rotator cuff problems can be treated at home also.

  • If you have had shoulder pain before, use ice and ibuprofen after exercising.
  • Learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your rotator cuff tendons and shoulder muscles. A doctor or physical therapist can recommend such exercises.
  • If you are recovering from tendinitis, continue to do range-of-motion exercises to avoid frozen shoulder.
  • Practice good posture to keep your shoulder muscles and tendons in their right positions.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Sudden left shoulder pain can sometimes be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 if you have sudden pressure or crushing pain in your shoulder, especially if the pain runs from your chest to the left jaw, arm or neck, or occurs with shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating.

Go to the hospital emergency room if you have just had a severe injury and your shoulder is very painful, swollen, bruised, or bleeding.

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Shoulder pain with a fever, swelling, or redness
  • Problems moving the shoulder
  • Pain for more than 2 to 4 weeks, even after home treatment
  • Swelling of the shoulder
  • Red or blue color of the skin of the shoulder area

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and closely look at your shoulder. You will be asked questions to help the provider understand your shoulder problem.

Blood or imaging tests, such as x-rays or MRI, may be ordered to help diagnose the problem.

Your provider may recommend treatment for shoulder pain, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Injection of an anti-inflammatory medicine called corticosteroid
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery if all other treatments do not work

If you have a rotator cuff problem, your provider will likely suggest self-care measures and exercises.

References

Martin SD, Upadhyaya S, Thornhill TS. Shoulder pain. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, McInnes IB, O'Dell JR, eds. Kelly and Firestein's Textbook of Rheumatology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 46.

Matzkin EG, Hampton DM, Gill TA. Shoulder diagnosis and decision making. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 43.

BACK TO TOP

    • Shoulder joint dislocation

      Shoulder joint dislocation

      Animation

    • Rotator cuff problems

      Rotator cuff problems

      Animation

    • Shoulder pain

      Animation

    • Impingement syndrome

      Impingement syndrome

      illustration

    • Rotator cuff muscles

      Rotator cuff muscles

      illustration

    • Heart attack symptoms

      Heart attack symptoms

      illustration

    • Bursitis of the shoulder

      Bursitis of the shoulder

      illustration

    • Shoulder separation - Series

      Shoulder separation - Series

      Presentation

    •  
    • Shoulder joint dislocation

      Animation

    • Rotator cuff problems

      Animation

    • Shoulder pain

      Animation

    • Impingement syndrome

      Impingement syndrome

      illustration

    • Rotator cuff muscles

      Rotator cuff muscles

      illustration

    • Heart attack symptoms

      Heart attack symptoms

      illustration

    • Bursitis of the shoulder

      Bursitis of the shoulder

      illustration

    • Shoulder separation - Series

      Shoulder separation - Series

      Presentation

    •  

    Self Care

     

    Tests for Shoulder pain

     
     

    Review Date: 9/7/2017

    Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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