What are the Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The shoulder refers both to the joint that connects the arm to the upper body, but also to the whole area of the body, front and back, between the neck and the upper arm. When referring to “the shoulders,” the area from shoulder to shoulder across the back may be included as well. Thus shoulder pain can involve only one side or the whole upper torso, and the most common causes of shoulder pain maybe due to a discrete problem in the shoulder or an issue originating in a different location.

OTC painkillers can help with shoulder pain.
OTC painkillers can help with shoulder pain.

Many people know that pain or pressure felt in the middle of the chest or pain in the left arm is an indication that immediate medical attention should be sought, as it may indicate a heart attack. Fewer people realize that the pain may manifest in the left neck or the left shoulder. In any case, a call to 911 and immediate transport to an emergency room is in order.

Injury is a common cause of shoulder pain.
Injury is a common cause of shoulder pain.

Helicobacter pylori infections can have some similarities to the symptoms of a heart attack. In this case, however, pain tends to be between the shoulder blades. Be advised that this is a type of infection that is not always recommended to treat, as there can be undesirable outcomes from eradicating it.

A doctor may recommend physical therapy to a patient suffering from shoulder pain.
A doctor may recommend physical therapy to a patient suffering from shoulder pain.

Bursitis, a painful inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that pad the muscles, bones, and tendons at the joints, frequently occurs at the shoulders. Symptoms include aching, stiffness, or pain, which may be accompanied by swelling and redness. It is often brought on by repetitive motion, and may be eased by rest or require further treatment. Once experienced, it has a tendency to recur.

Bursitis, a painful inflammation of the bursae, frequently occurs at the shoulders.
Bursitis, a painful inflammation of the bursae, frequently occurs at the shoulders.

Trauma to the shoulder can result in fractures to its three bones — the scapula or shoulder blade, the clavicle or collar bone, and the humerus or arm bone — or other injuries, any of which may cause shoulder pain. The other injuries can be of two main types. One type includes dislocations and the other is damage to the soft tissue of the shoulder — the joint capsule, ligaments, muscles, rotator cuff, and tendons. These are treated without or with surgery, depending on the severity and type, and both a period of immobilization and rehabilitation are generally needed.

Helicobacter pylori infections can have some similarities to the symptoms of a heart attack.
Helicobacter pylori infections can have some similarities to the symptoms of a heart attack.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a rheumatic disease that involves the whole range of elements around the joint: ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Its symptoms include both pain and stiffness at the joints, particularly in the neck and shoulders, and especially in the morning, but may extend to systemic symptoms such as fatigue and fever. It is treated primarily with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and steroids.

Other conditions that may cause shoulder pain commonly include shingles and cancer. Shingles is a rash that is caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox. Certain types of cancer can cause pain in the shoulder. This includes lung cancer and breast cancer.

A neck injury may lead to shoulder pain.
A neck injury may lead to shoulder pain.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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