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doctor examining patient to investigate shoulder pain causes
By In-house Team, Circle Health Group

Common causes of shoulder pain

Shoulder pain is a common issue that many people face and for many different reasons. This article dives into common causes of shoulder pain, identifying their symptoms and suggesting different treatment options to help improve shoulder movement and ease discomfort

Shoulder pain is a common in people of all ages. The shoulder joint is very complex as it is one of the joints in the body that can move the most in a range of ways – because of this it also makes it vulnerable to various injuries and conditions. Finding the exact cause of shoulder pain is important so that the right treatment can be uncovered.

In this article, we will explore the common causes of shoulder pain, understand their symptoms, and summarise the treatment options available to help restore shoulder functionality and ease discomfort.

Rotator cuff tendonitis

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that wrap around the shoulder joint. They keep the head of your upper arm bone securely within the shallow socket of the shoulder. Rotator cuff tendonitis is a condition that happens when the tendons around the shoulder become irritated or inflamed.

The main reasons why someone may develop this condition are repetitive overhead movements or heavy lifting, which can strain the rotator cuff. If you've been experiencing a persistent dull ache in your shoulder, it might be worth investigating whether rotator cuff tendonitis is the cause.


  • Persistent dull ache in the shoulder
  • Pain when lifting your arm or while lying on the affected side
  • Limited shoulder movement

Treatment options

  • Physiotherapy – to strengthen shoulder muscles
  • Anti-inflammatory medications – to help reduce any swelling
  • Steroid injections – to help ease any pain

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder, medically known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. It often starts gradually, worsens over time, and then may take a long time to resolve.

It significantly impacts everyday activities, making tasks like dressing or reaching behind your back challenging. The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is unclear, although it may arise after prolonged immobility because of injury or surgery.

Treatment for a frozen shoulder may include shoulder exercises to improve mobility, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain, and joint distension to stretch the shoulder joint and improve the shoulder’s range of motion. With the right treatment, it's possible to improve the range of movement in your shoulder over time.


  • Stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint
  • Difficulty with everyday activities like dressing or reaching behind your back
  • Progressively worsening movement limitations

Treatment options

  • Shoulder exercises
  • Corticosteroids
  • Joint distension

Shoulder bursitis

Shoulder bursitis can be become an issue when doing daily tasks due to the discomfort and pain it brings. When your shoulder's bursa, a small fluid-filled sac acting as a gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body, gets inflamed, it results in what is medically referred to as shoulder bursitis.

This condition is commonly brought on by overuse or injury to the area. Understanding its symptoms and knowing the treatment options available can provide relief and speed up the healing process.


  • The affected shoulder may feel tender and warm to the touch, making even slight brushes of fabric painful
  • A sharp, shooting pain when making certain movements, particularly those that involve stretching or lifting
  • A dull, throbbing ache even at rest, which can interfere with your sleep

Treatment options

  • Rest: Letting your shoulder rest can do wonders. It is important to avoid movements that cause pain to prevent further irritation
  • Ice application: Applying ice packs to the affected area several times a day can help reduce swelling and ease pain
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be effective in reducing pain and inflammation

Shoulder impingement

The discomfort of shoulder impingement can range from mildly annoying to severely incapacitating. This occurs when the shoulder blade presses onto the rotator cuff tendons or bursa when you lift your arm, causing impingement. Over time, this pressure can lead to severe irritation and pain, making it crucial to address the issue early on.


  • A minor but persistent pain in the arm, which might escalate over time or with certain movements
  • Pain that aggravates at night or when reaching behind your back, making simple tasks or finding a comfortable sleeping position challenging
  • Loss of strength in the shoulder muscles, impacting your ability to lift objects or even perform routine tasks like brushing your hair or reaching for items on high shelves

Treatment options

  • Physiotherapy: Engaging in physiotherapy can help strengthen shoulder muscles and enhance flexibility, which may ease symptoms
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Medications like ibuprofen can be beneficial in reducing inflammation and providing pain relief
  • Corticosteroid injections: In severe cases, your doctor might recommend corticosteroid injections to alleviate inflammation and pain

Arthritis of the shoulder

Shoulder arthritis typically stems from the breaking down of the cartilage that cushions the bones in the shoulder joint. The most common form of arthritis in the shoulder is osteoarthritis, often known as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis. As the protective cartilage wears down over time, it leads to painful bone-on-bone contact.


  • Persistent shoulder pain that may worsen with activity or at the end of the day
  • Reduced mobility in the shoulder, making it challenging to perform usual tasks that require a full range of motion
  • Swelling and tenderness around the joint, making the area sensitive to touch and movement

Treatment options

  • Physiotherapy: Engaging in exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles can provide better support to the joint and ease the burden on the arthritic area
  • Joint injections: Injections, including corticosteroids, can provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation
  • Shoulder joint replacement: In severe or advanced cases of shoulder arthritis, shoulder joint replacement surgery may be recommended to restore function and alleviate pain

Addressing shoulder issues promptly with the guidance of healthcare professionals can significantly improve your quality of life. It's essential to seek medical advice if you are experiencing persistent or severe shoulder pain. Your treatment plan will be tailored to your specific condition, ensuring you get back to enjoying a pain-free life sooner.

Fractures and dislocations

Shoulder fractures and dislocations are common injuries that generally occur because of a powerful impact or fall on the shoulder area. Examples include a clavicle fracture or a shoulder dislocation, both of which can be extremely painful and significantly limit movement. Addressing these issues promptly can hasten the healing process and prevent long-term complications.


  • Experiencing intense pain that might escalate when attempting to move the shoulder
  • Limited movement or complete inability to move the shoulder
  • Visible deformity, along with swelling and bruising in the shoulder area, indicating a serious injury

Treatment options

  • Immobilisation: Keeping the shoulder still with a sling or splint to prevent further injury and promote healing
  • Pain medication: Pain management using prescribed or over-the-counter pain medications to ease discomfort
  • Physiotherapy: Post-healing, engaging in physiotherapy can help restore range of motion and strengthen the shoulder muscles
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair the damage and restore function

Tendon tears

Tendon tears in the shoulder, affecting either the biceps tendon or the rotator cuff tendons, are often a result of acute injury or chronic degenerative changes over time. These tears can severely limit your shoulder movement and affect your daily life.


  • Severe pain and tenderness in the shoulder, especially when moving
  • Weakness in the arm and shoulder, impacting your ability to lift objects or perform routine tasks
  • Inability to move the shoulder, particularly overhead motions which can be nearly impossible

Treatment options

  • Rest and ice application: Allowing the shoulder to rest and applying ice to reduce swelling can be useful
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: To control inflammation and manage pain
  • Physiotherapy: Engaging in exercises to strengthen the shoulder and enhance flexibility
  • Surgical repair: In severe cases, surgical repair might be necessary to restore function to the shoulder

Heart conditions

It's important to know that not all shoulder pain is rooted in the musculoskeletal system. Heart conditions like heart attacks can cause referred pain to the shoulder.

It's crucial to recognise the signs and seek immediate medical attention, particularly if shoulder pain is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, or other serious symptoms.

Address shoulder pain for a healthier tomorrow

Shoulder pain, regardless of its cause, can significantly affect your quality of life. Throughout this discussion, we've explored various causes of shoulder pain, from shoulder bursitis to heart conditions, highlighting the respective symptoms and treatment options. Accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment are instrumental in alleviating shoulder pain and restoring mobility.

At Circle Health Group, comprehensive care and expert consultations are available for individuals suffering with shoulder pain or related conditions.

Don’t let shoulder pain hold you back. Book an appointment online or call directly for a consultation with a specialist at Circle Health Group, and take action to address your shoulder pain today.

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