The shoulder is the most mobile joint in our body. It allows movement backward and forward, around in a circle, and it enables the arm to move up and away from the body.
We have all most likely experienced some type of shoulder pain, and sometimes we can easily identify the source, but at other times there may not seem to be any reason for this mysterious and sudden pain in our shoulder. This is why we are here to review 13 potential sources of your shoulder pain; some common, and others not so easily explained.
Common Causes of Your Shoulder Pain
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that develops from wear and tear, an old injury, or repetitive overhead motions often caused by athletic activities or daily labor. As we age, the cartilage and joint tissue deteriorates, which can cause pain, limited mobility, and swelling.
A fractured collarbone is a break in one of the many bones included in the shoulder. This can happen from a fall or a serious impact to the shoulder and is generally quite painful. If the collarbone moves too far out of place then surgery to realign it may be required.
Rotator cuff injury is the most common reason for shoulder pain. Age causes our tendons to become worn, making them susceptible to a tear. If the arm hurts when lifting it upward from the body, it is most likely a rotator cuff injury. There does not seem to be one specific cause to rotator cuff problems, and usually pain medications and physical therapy will be the preferred treatment. Sometimes surgery is required.
Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa sac. The bursa sac is filled with fluid and it helps to cushion the bones of the shoulder joint. The symptoms of shoulder bursitis are constant pain that gets worse with any movement. It seems to strike people over the age of 50 as well as those with diabetes and a weakened immune system. It is common in athletes, especially basketball players and swimmers. Treatment includes alternating application of ice then heat and anti-inflammatories like Aleve.
Frozen shoulder is a condition that describes inflammation of the lining of the shoulder joint, which is also known as adhesive capsulitis. It is not normally the result of an injury and seems to be more common in women between the ages of 40 and 60. The symptoms move from having pain with movement to being unable to move the shoulder at all (frozen) to range of motion improving. Treatment includes physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, injections, and possibly surgery.
A pinched nerve occurs when a bone or disc compresses the nerve that extends from the upper spine to the neck and shoulder. Symptoms include pins and needles with numbness in the shoulder, arm, or hand. Typical treatment options include cortisone injections, an adjustment by a chiropractor, ice and heat, and physical therapy.
Rare Causes of Shoulder Pain
Gallbladder issues and gallstones can present as pain in the right shoulder. You can also experience pain in the abdomen under the breast bone, pain between the shoulder blades, and in the upper right abdomen. One clue that it might be gallstones is there will be no pain in the shoulder joint when you move it. See Dr. Samuel Koo if you experience these symptoms.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome occurs when blood vessels or nerves between your collarbone and upper rib become compressed. Symptoms include numbness in the fingers along with shoulder and neck pain. This condition can be a result of repetitive activities, carrying heavy objects, obesity, or even pregnancy. Treatment includes mainly physical therapy with surgery as a last resort.
Fibromyalgia is a painful but mysterious condition. It attacks mostly women and can cause symptoms such as dull pain in numerous parts of the body including the top of the shoulder, back of the head, knees, hip, and upper chest. Fibromyalgia pain is typically accompanied by fatigue and depression, headaches, and anxiety. Speak to DOCTOR/PRACTICE if you are having these symptoms.
Potentially Dangerous Sources of Shoulder Pain
These four situations should not be overlooked as they can be life threatening.
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in your lungs. It can feel like a pulled muscle in your shoulder, but will suddenly escalates to severe pain that worsens when you lie down. This can cause damage to your lungs and needs immediate attention. Seek emergent care of you notice these symptoms.
A heart attack can show up as pain in your shoulder, your arms, legs, and back. Shoulder pain is one of the many signs of a heart attack and is particularly common in women. Combined with fatigue, indigestion, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness, this shoulder pain is a warning sign to seek medical care as soon as possible. Pain in the chest is the most frequent symptom, but is not always present when a woman is having a heart attack.
Subarachnoid hemorrhaging is another serious condition with shoulder pain as one of its symptoms in addition to numbness, vision issues, confusion, and a sudden crippling headache. With this condition there is hemorrhaging between the brain and its protective tissue. If you experience these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room to prevent brain damage and to protect your life.
Cancer of the lungs sometimes causes what is known as “referred” pain in the shoulder. This pain can often be mistaken as arthritis. In addition to this pain, chronic coughing, labored breathing, weight loss, fatigue, and multiple respiratory infections are also among the list of likely symptoms you will experience if you do in fact have lung cancer.
No matter what the cause, you should contact Samuel Koo, MD, MPH at (425) 823-4000 for treatment with any unexplained or serious shoulder pain.