Dr Shayan Ahmed

Shoulder Pain Causes, Treatment & Symptoms

January 10, 2024, 22:01

Shoulder injuries can be more than just a nuisance. It can disrupt your daily routine, limiting your movements and causing discomfort that's hard to ignore.

Your shoulder is a highly flexible ball-and-socket joint made up of the humerus (your upper arm bone), the clavicle (your collarbone), and the scapula (or the shoulder blade). These bones are nestled in a cushion of cartilage, allowing your shoulder its wide range of motion. This means you can swing your arm in circles, reach both forwards and backward, and lift things up high.

Much of this impressive flexibility comes from your rotator cuff, four tendons that connect your muscles to your bones. But, like any hardworking part of the body, it can get injured or inflamed, making simple actions like lifting your arm a real challenge.

Managing shoulder pain often starts at home with some rest and care, but sometimes, it needs a bit more attention. This is where treatments like physical therapy, medication, or even surgery come into play. 

Understanding what's causing your shoulder pain is key to finding the proper treatment and preventing further issues. Schedule your shoulder ultrasound scan today or learn more below.

Shoulder Pain Causes and Types

Understanding the potential causes and shoulder pain types is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Let's take a look at the common shoulder issues you might be experiencing:

Bone Spurs

Small, smooth bone growths (osteophytes) can wear on the rotator cuff, causing tendinitis or a rotator cuff tear and restricting shoulder movement.


Repetitive motions or injuries can inflame the bursa, a cushioning sac in the joint. This leads to pain most noticeable during shoulder movement.

Cartilage Tear

Repeated motion or injury can tear the cartilage around the shoulder joint, causing pain, especially when reaching overhead. It can also create sensations of catching, locking, or grinding.


If the shoulder is excessively pulled back or rotated, the arm's top can dislocate from its socket, causing pain, weakness, swelling, numbness, and bruising.


A fall or a hard hit can fracture bones like the clavicle or humerus. This results in intense pain, bruising, and, in the case of a broken collarbone, a sagging shoulder and inability to lift the arm.

Frozen Shoulder

Characterised by limited joint movement due to abnormal tissue bands (adhesions), frozen shoulder can occur from reduced usage following pain or surgery.

Heart Attack

Shoulder pain accompanied by breathing difficulty or chest tightness could be a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.


This condition arises when the rotator cuff tendons get pinched in the shoulder bones, causing swelling and pain often exacerbated by lifting the arms overhead.


A common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis involves cartilage breakdown between bones, resulting in pain and stiffness in the shoulders.

Referred Pain

Shoulder pain without an apparent shoulder issue can indicate problems with other organs like the gallbladder or liver.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis attacks the joint lining, leading to shoulder pain and stiffness.

Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff can be damaged through overuse, ageing, or injury, leading to pain (especially at night), difficulty lifting the arm, and a crackling sound during movement.


This injury affects the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, where the collarbone and shoulder blade meet. A fall or a hard blow can tear the ligaments, leading to a noticeable bump on the shoulder.


An inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons, tendinitis can develop over time or from injury, leading to pain in the shoulder.

Shoulder Pain Diagnosis

When you visit a doctor with concerns about shoulder pain, they will first conduct a physical exam. This is to check for structural problems and ensure the pain isn't related to your spine or neck.

Your doctor will assess the strength and flexibility of your shoulder. This involves various movements like lifting your arms above your head, across your body, behind you, and rotating them to different degrees.

Shoulder Injury Diagnosis: The Role of Shoulder Ultrasounds

To gain a deeper insight into your shoulder injury, your doctor might recommend an ultrasound scan. Ultrasound is a non-invasive medical imaging technology that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your body.

What Can an Ultrasound Check For?

  • Shoulder Joint: Ultrasound can assess the condition of your shoulder joint.

  • Range of Movement: It helps in evaluating the causes of pain and any restrictions in movement.

  • Tendons, Muscles, and Ligaments: The scan provides a clear picture of these structures in and around your shoulder.

  • Inflammation and Fluid: Ultrasound can detect any inflammation or fluid accumulation.

  • Lumps: It helps identify abnormal growths.

  • Abnormalities and Other Causes of Concern: Ultrasound aids in identifying any specific concerns that might need further investigation or treatment.

The Ultrasound Process

If it's your first time undergoing a shoulder ultrasound, you might be curious about the procedure. Here's what to expect:

  • A shoulder ultrasound is painless and usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes.

  • The doctor or specialist will apply a clear, water-based gel to your affected shoulder. This gel helps the ultrasound probe move smoothly over your skin.

  • As the probe moves over your shoulder, it projects images of your shoulder muscles, joints, and surrounding soft tissues onto a screen.

  • These images allow your doctor to see inside your shoulder and diagnose the cause of your discomfort or pain.

Once the ultrasound is complete, you can typically go home right away. No specific aftercare is required, although follow-up treatment may be necessary depending on your diagnosis. Your doctor can often provide results immediately.

Treating Shoulder Pain

To treat your shoulder pain, it's essential to pinpoint the exact cause and how severe it is. How you manage it can vary, from simple care at home to more involved medical treatments.

Home Treatment Strategies

For minor shoulder pain, you may find these home remedies effective:

  • Icing: Apply ice to the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times a day, for several days. Always use an ice bag or wrap the ice in a towel to avoid direct skin contact.

  • Rest: Allow the shoulder to rest for a few days, avoiding movements and activities that exacerbate the pain.

  • Over-the-Counter Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) available without a prescription can help reduce pain and inflammation.

  • Compression: An elastic bandage can be used to compress the area, which helps in reducing swelling.

Medical Interventions

Depending on the specific shoulder issue, your doctor may suggest:

  • Physical or Occupational Therapy: These therapies are crucial for rehabilitation, especially after injuries or surgery.

  • Use of a Sling: For certain conditions like dislocations, separations, and fractures, immobilising the shoulder is necessary for healing.

  • Medication: NSAIDs are often recommended or prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation. In more severe cases, corticosteroids—either orally or via injection directly into the shoulder—can be used.

  • Surgery: Surgical intervention may be required for persistent issues such as cartilage tears, rotator cuff injuries, or frozen shoulder that don't respond to conservative treatments.

Ongoing Management and Exercises

Regardless of the shoulder injury type and severity of the issue, a key component of treatment often includes exercises aimed at improving the range of motion, strength, and flexibility of the joint. These exercises are essential for recovery and for preventing future complications.

Overcoming Shoulder Pain

Don't let shoulder pain hold you back any longer. Take the first step towards recovery and enhanced well-being. Book an ultrasound appointment online today, and let our dedicated team give you the answers you deserve.

Resources: shoulder-pain-and-common-shoulder-problems/

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