Find where it hurts

Shoulder pain can be felt in any region of the shoulder and can occur in either shoulder. Locations of shoulder pain relate to the structure causing the pain and can include:

  • Shoulder blade pain
  • Rightor leftshoulder pain
  • Frontor backshoulder pain
  • Pain deep within shoulder joint

Symptoms of shoulder pain

Symptoms of shoulder pain can vary depending on the cause. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain with movement, particularly when lifting arms up or over the head
  • Reduced movement and limited range of motion
  • Weakness in the shoulder or upper arm
  • Stiffness

Shoulder joint pain cancause pain in all directions of movement, while shoulder muscle pain typically affects movement in only 1 or 2 directions. Dull, aching pain suggests shoulder joint pain or shoulder muscle pain, while sharp, shooting pain suggests nerve pain. Shoulder pain at night or shoulder pain from sleeping can occur when lying on the affected shoulder.

What are common shoulder pain causes?

Common causes of shoulder pain include injury, overuse, or general wear and tear of the joints and muscles of the shoulder. Factors that contribute to shoulder pain include performing repetitive movements, working with arms above shoulder height, and carrying or lifting heavy loads. Some specific causes of shoulder pain are described below.Trauma—injuries or sprains to the joints or to the ligaments and other soft tissues that connect and stabilise bones often result from falls or other direct impact on the shoulder. Rotator cuff tears are common, especially in older peopleas they can happen over a period of time as you age.Osteoarthritis—occurs when the cartilage that cushions the end of bones is damaged or becomes worn out.Shoulder pain can also result from nerve pain in your neck or upper back or be referred pain from other areas in your upper body.

How to find shoulder pain relief

Restoring and maintaining movement and function are key to recovery from shoulder pain—this requires appropriate pain management. Using heat and cold packs and an anti-inflammatory pain reliever such as ibuprofen are some options to help manage shoulder pain so you can keep your shoulder moving.

Managing shoulder pain

Shoulder pain may take a little while to improve but you should try to continue your normal activities as much as you can. Activity modification and physical therapy are recommended to help manage your symptoms. If you are unsure about what activity is suitable, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist. You can modify or avoid everyday activities that make your shoulder pain worse; for example, limiting or avoiding overhead activity and heavy loading of the shoulder. Early physiotherapy, particularly after injury, can help reduce shoulder stiffness and weakness and provide you with exercises to help improve strength and function. Occupational therapy can teach you ways to modify your everyday activities and provide equipment to help make these activities easier.

Preventing shoulder pain

Here are a few tips to help you prevent shoulder pain:

  • Modify your daily activities to reduce stress on your shoulder joints and muscles
  • Ask for help to lift or carry heavy loads or to reach things up high
  • Ease into any new activity or exercise program
  • Perform gentle stretching and strengthening exercises to improve shoulder function

When should I be concerned about shoulder pain?

Most people with shoulder pain recover but in some cases it can take some time to see improvement. You should see your doctor if your shoulder pain gets worse or does not improve, or if you are concerned about your shoulder pain for any reason. If you experience shoulder pain that radiates down your arm, or a tight or heavy feeling across your chest or the front of your shoulders, seek emergency care immediately.