Common Causes of Shoulder Pain


June 29, 2021

Shoulder pain can be debilitating. There are a number of conditions, many that come with age,  that can cause pain to the joint and the areas surrounding it. Many of these conditions and injuries will also limit your mobility. Whether your pain is due to injury or common wear and tear conditions, Southeast Pain and Spine Care can help you feel better.

The Shoulder Joint

The shoulder joint is what is known as a ball and socket joint. It contains an elaborate collection of muscle, bone, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. The bursae are small sacs of fluid that cushion the shoulder joint and allow it to move smoothly. The tendons, muscles, and ligaments are surrounded by connective tissue known as the capsule and are collectively known as the rotator cuff.  Your rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder joint and holds it in place. When healthy, the joint allows smooth mobility of the arm.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain can result from a variety of common conditions or injuries. Many will not only cause significant pain but also limit the range of motion in the shoulder. The most common causes of shoulder pain include:


Bursitis is an inflammatory condition. The bursa, which cushions the shoulder joint, can become inflamed as a result of repetitive motion. Symptoms of bursitis include:

  • Pain and stiffness in your shoulder that gets worse with movement
  • Swelling and/or redness around the shoulder joint
  • Inability to move your shoulder

Treatment of bursitis centers around resting your shoulder while it heals. You may need to keep your arm in a sling to help the healing process. Although it usually goes away by itself within a few weeks, bursitis can also become a recurring condition.


When the tendons in your shoulder become inflamed, the condition is called tendinitis. It can occur as a result of an injury or from repetitive movement. Symptoms of tendinitis include:

  • A dull but constant aching pain in your shoulder
  • Minor swelling
  • Sensitive to touch

Frozen Shoulder

A condition of frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. When the connective tissue that surrounds and protects the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the bone thickens from lack of use, your shoulder can become limited in its range. Severe cases might even require arthroscopic surgery. The condition can develop slowly and last for several months. Symptoms of a frozen shoulder include:

  • Pain that results from any type of movement
  • Worsening limitations on mobility
  • Shoulder gradually becomes stiffer until use is almost impossible
  • Pain that interferes with your ability to sleep

A frozen shoulder can respond to physical therapy and corticosteroid injections.  It can also be a symptom of other shoulder conditions. 

Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff that stabilizes the shoulder joint can sustain tears due to an injury. However, they can also be the result of repetitive overhead motion throughout the years. A rotator cuff tear is one of the more serious injuries you can sustain to your shoulder. If the tear is severe, surgery could be an option.  Symptoms of a tear include:

  • Shoulder pain that occurs when you reach overhead
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder
  • Difficulty sleeping when lying on the side of the injury
  • Pain whether you are moving your arm or are resting
  • A sensation of popping in the shoulder
  • Frozen shoulder

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

If your rotator cuff tends to catch under the bone due to years of repetitive use, then you have developed shoulder impingement syndrome. There is usually a tear to the rotator cuff involved which causes the tendons to become pinched beneath the acromion.  Shoulder impingement tends to develop slowly over a period of weeks or even months. This painful condition has the following symptoms:

  • Pain when you lift your arms above your head
  • Pain when you raise or lower your arms
  • Pain when you reach for something
  • Pain when you lie on the side that is affected
  • Pain that prevents sleep
  • Pain seems to move from your shoulder to the side of your arm
  • Pain when you reach behind your back
  • General weakness in your shoulder and arm

Separated Shoulder

If you fall on your shoulder or are in an accident and experience pain afterward, you may be suffering from a separated shoulder. A separated shoulder is an injury to the ligaments that hold your collarbone to your shoulder. This injury could be as minor as a simple sprain, but it could also be as major as a tear. Symptoms of a separated shoulder include:

  • Shoulder looks bruised or swollen
  • General shoulder pain
  • Weakness in your shoulder or arm
  • Limited mobility in your shoulder

In most cases, a separated shoulder will respond well to ice and rest. Recovery can be complete in a few short weeks.

How Southeast Pain and Spine Care Can Help

If you have shoulder pain or weakness in your shoulder or arm, we can help. Some conditions will respond well with a corticosteroid injection. Other conditions may respond well to ice or rest. You may require pain management during your recovery. If your diagnosis is more serious, we can direct you to an experienced shoulder surgeon. You can contact us at Southeast Pain and Spine Care Center today to make an appointment for an assessment of your shoulder condition. 

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