Shoulder pain is one of the most common pain areas that many people encounter with 18-26% of adults experiencing it at any given time. What are the main causes of shoulder pain? There are a few reasons why your shoulder may be hurting. The way to treat it is dependant on what has caused the pain in the first place. Treatment for shoulder pain ranges from something as simple as rest to medication and intense physical therapy. We look at some of the most common causes of shoulder pain.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
If you are having trouble moving your shoulder joint, you could have rotator cuff tendonitis, also known as tendonitis. Rotator cuff tendonitis means that your tendons could be inflamed and/or irritated. You may also know rotator cuff tendonitis as impingement syndrome.
Tendonitis often occurs over time. It isn’t usually something that just happens overnight and can lead to you using your shoulder in a distinct way. For example, you may stop participating in activities that require you to move your shoulder/arm or you may walk differently in order to keep your shoulder from moving as much. People who play a lot of sports who need to lift their arm over their head frequently will generally develop rotator cuff tendonitis. This pain can also be referred to as swimmers shoulder, pitchers shoulder or tennis shoulder. So, if you’re a swimmer, play tennis or play sports such as baseball, you may find that you get a sore shoulder from those activities.
People can have rotator cuff tendonitis without any known cause. But, the upside to this diagnosis is that most people with tendonitis are often able to regain full function of the shoulder and have no pain once again.
If you have mild symptoms, you may be able to relieve the pain with some rest. However, symptoms may become more constant and more painful as time goes on. You may experience stiffness in the shoulder, a clicking sound when you put your arm up in the air, pain when reaching behind your back, pain that awakes you in the night and pain and swelling in the front of your shoulder and side of your arm. Generally, rotator cuff tendonitis is only in the upper part of the arm. If you have symptoms that are below the elbow, this usually indicates another problem.
If you are having any pains or symptoms that you think maybe rotator cuff tendonitis, it’s always best to have a chat with your healthcare professional or GP.. They will be able to examine your shoulder and may request further testing such as an ultrasound or x-ray to determine the cause of the pain.
Another common cause of shoulder pain is when you may have a pinched nerve in the upper spine. This is also known as cervical radiculopathy. The most common way a nerve may become pinched is when bone spurs form around the spinal discs. These act as “shock absorbers” between vertebrae in the spine and new formations of bone can happen when the discs begin to weaken as you age. If the vertebrae become compressed, the discs become thinner. This extra bone growth to help try and strengthen the discs in your spine can put pressure on nerves.
One of the easiest ways to diagnose whether you have a pinched nerve is to get a physical examination from a doctor or physiotherapist. They’ll be able to see what is causing the shoulder pain and determine if it is from a pinched nerve. But, you may be able to determine at home if you have a pinched nerve.
If you have pain in one shoulder only and have sharp pain and discomfort that may worsen if you turn your head, there is a chance that you may have a pinched nerve. Neck pain and associated headaches are also signs that you may have pinched a nerve in your spine. Sometimes, You may have a feeling of pins and needles in your shoulder and you may feel weak when you try to lift something. But, the easiest way to know whether you have pinched nerve causing shoulder pain is to see your doctor.
Things to tell your Healthcare Professional
If you do see your Healthcare professional about the pain in your shoulder, there will be a few things that you can tell them to help them to understand more about your condition and to get the right diagnosis. There are few things that may help to determine the cause and some things you can remember include
- Where the pain is – In one shoulder or both shoulders
- Whether the pain begin suddenly or gradually over time
- What you were doing when the pain started in your shoulder
- Whether or not your shoulder hurts when you’re moving
- Whether the pain in your shoulder is a sharp pain or dull ache
- If the pain keeps you awake at night or whether it wakes you throughout the night
- What you have done so far to help improve the pain
Because of the varying reasons why you may have shoulder pain, it’s always best to get advice from a qualified doctor. They’ll be able to determine exactly why you have the pain and if required, organise further testing.