Shoulder pain 

Introduction 

Shoulder pain

A physiotherapist explains what you can do to prevent and ease shoulder pain, and when to get help from an expert.

Media last reviewed: 13/11/2012

Next review due: 13/11/2014

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

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 has an unusually large range of movement (hypermobility) 
  • acromioclavicular joint disorders – conditions 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.

Read more about the causes of shoulder pain.

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:

In most cases, shoulder disorders improve over time if treatment advice is followed.

Read about how shoulder pain is treated.

When to see your GP

You should see you GP if your pain is the result of an injury, it's 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.

Read more about diagnosing shoulder pain.

Page last reviewed: 26/10/2012

Next review due: 26/10/2014

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Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Ad919 said on 17 June 2014

Hi Joke39.

I am yet to see a doctor about my shoulder but I suspect it is frozen shoulder. My mum has it and it has been killing me for months now. I had a bicycle accident about 2 months ago and sods law landed directly on to my already painful shoulder which has now made the shoulder even worse.

Going to the doctors next week to get it checked out but last weekend I also started feeling a pain in my wrist. It was almost like the pain you get when you expect a bone to click in the wrist and relive the pressure but it wouldn't click and the pain remianed for an hour or so. Was pretty unpleasant.

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joke39 said on 11 December 2013

Hi. I have been diagnosed with frozen shoulder a year ago. The pain has been mostly in my upper arm, but recently my left wrist started hurting. Has anyone else got this experience as well or is this not related to frozen shoulder?

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