Shoulder pain is a common problem with a number of different causes. It’s often a symptom of another problem.
There are a number of reasons why you might be experiencing shoulder pain, which include:
- poor posture
- frozen shoulder – a painful condition that reduces normal movement in the joint and can sometimes prevent movement in the shoulder altogether
- rotator cuff disorders – the rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to keep it stable
- shoulder instability – where the shoulder is unstable and may have an unusually large range of movement (hypermobility)
- acromioclavicular joint disorders – conditions, including osteoarthritis that affect the acromioclavicular joint, which is the joint at the top of the shoulder
- osteoarthritis in the shoulder joints
- a broken (fractured) bone, such as a fracture of the humerus (upper arm bone) or broken collarbone
In some cases, pain in the shoulder isn’t caused by a problem in the shoulder joint, but by a problem in another area, such as the neck, that is felt in the shoulder and upper back.
Treating shoulder pain
There are things you can do yourself to treat shoulder pain, including using painkillers such as ibuprofen, or ice packs to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Avoiding activities that may aggravate your symptoms will also help.
Depending on the cause of your shoulder pain, you may need further treatment, such as:
- injections of corticosteroids – a type of medication that contains hormones
- surgery (in some cases)
In most cases, shoulder disorders improve over time if treatment advice is followed.
When to see your GP
You should see your GP if your pain is the result of an injury, is particularly bad, or there is no sign of improvement after a couple of weeks.
Shoulder pain can be a long-term problem: up to half of people still have symptoms after 18 months. A correct diagnosis will ensure you receive the right treatment.
Who is affected?
Shoulder disorders are fairly common: about three in 10 adults are affected by them at any one time.
Frozen shoulder and rotator cuff disorders are most common in middle-aged and older people. Shoulder instability and acromioclavicular joint disorders tend to affect younger people, particularly men who play:
- sports that involve repetitive shoulder movements, such as overarm bowling or throwing
- contact sports, such as rugby, where you may injure or fall on your shoulder