The Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain and How to Treat Them

Updated on January 6, 2020

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Have you recently noticed an ongoing pain in your shoulder that you don’t recall being there a few weeks ago? Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies are not as resilient as they used to be. It takes longer to heal from injuries that we weren’t previously worried about and we become at risk for diseases that can harm our bones and joints. 

We’re going to discuss four causes of shoulder pain and how you might be able to treat these symptoms by breaking them down into injuries and illnesses. Keep reading to find out more! 

Arthritis-Like Conditions & Shoulder Pain

Generally speaking, if you have any of these illnesses, you will likely already have a diagnosis. However, if your shoulder is in pain and you can’t seem to figure out why these illnesses happened to you it may be worth addressing this issue with your doctor. 

Arthritis is a medical term for joint inflammation. It does not have to be specific to your shoulder but instead, can affect any number of areas in the body. Arthritis is a generic term that can actually include over 200 types of conditions.

If your pain is chronic and severe, your doctor may refer you to a specialist. This is especially true if your shoulder pain cannot be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medicine or non-narcotic pain relievers, light stretching, and ice/heat treatment. 

Your shoulder pain may be but a symptom to another underlying condition such as fibromyalgia, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, or osteoarthritis. 

While these conditions can sound scary or painful, there are several treatments available ranging from specialized pain killers to CBD oil. There are also options that may include diet changes, physical therapy, or even surgery as a last resort. 

However, if your symptoms have only recently appeared, the chances are much higher that you have, in fact, injured your shoulder. 

Common Shoulder Injuries

Photo by Harlie Raethel on Unsplash

Lifting those heavy boxes or playing ball with the boys isn’t as easy on your body as it used to be! In fact, after years of use, your shoulder may feel as though it has been rendered useless. 

Former or current sports players are much more likely to experience a rotator cuff tear than most people but this injury can occur by overusing or overextending your shoulder or even falling too hard on it. 

With a rotator cuff injury, you will likely want to start off by using an anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever. These can be found at your local drug store. If you are still in pain from the injury, also consider using ice and heat therapy

If after a day or two you still find yourself in great pain, opt to see a doctor. This can be your general practitioner or a doctor at an urgent care facility. They will likely want to x-ray your shoulder to check for other issues or order an MRI.

After your results come back your doctor will likely treat with a higher dose of pain relievers, order more rest, and possibly a short stint in physical therapy. It is important to follow these directions because the next options typically include cortisol injections or surgery to repair the injured tendons and muscles. 

Another possible injury that could cause shoulder pain is a fracture–particularly a fractured or broken collarbone. You will likely know if you have a fractured or broken collarbone because the affected shoulder will noticeably sag. This injury will most likely come from a hard impact but may be the result of an aforementioned bone or joint disorder.

Your doctor will confirm this, place you into a sling, order rest, pain relievers, and possibly physical therapy. There shouldn’t be a need for surgery unless the break is complicated or you shattered the bone. 

Shoulder dislocations are again a common injury–probably one of the most common. This injury occurs when the ball of the shoulder pops out of its socket. It is quite painful and you will likely automatically know when and how this injury happened. 

Some people are lucky and can pop their shoulders back into place or have a friend do so. If you aren’t sure, see a doctor to have your shoulder returned to its previous state. Once the joint is back in the proper place, you will be sore but likely will only need minimal pain relievers and rest. 

The Takeaway

As with most aches and pains, the best idea is to see if your body can heal itself over the course of a few days. This may include light stretching, ice and heat therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, and of course, rest. 

If by day two or three you still find yourself in pain or dealing with limited or highly painful movement, see your family doctor or go to a walk-in clinic. They will likely be able to diagnose your problem and give you instructions to heal your shoulder in a quicker timeframe. Always follow their instructions for the best possible results.

In the event that your shoulder requires further treatment, you and your doctor can discuss your options. Most often, these include cortisol or other steroid injections or possibly surgery. 

Should you ever be in severe or sudden pain, see a doctor immediately. This could be a sign of a heart attack or other serious condition. It is better to be safe than sorry when dealing with matters of the heart or a potential life or death situation. 

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