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Understanding Shoulder Joint Pain


Understanding Shoulder Joint Pain

Shoulder Joint Pain: What You Need to Know

The shoulder joint is one of the most common joints that we treat at the clinic. Studies show that up to 66.7% of people could experience some degree of shoulder pain in their lifetime.


With that being said, whether the issue is acute shoulder pain or an ongoing problem, shoulder pain can be managed. We are going to take a look at everything you need to know about shoulder joint paint, so you can get the treatment you need from a reputable source as soon as possible.


Let’s get started!


Anatomy of the Shoulder Joint

The shoulder girdle is comprised of three bones- the clavicle or collar bone, scapula or shoulder blade, and the humerus. These three bones come together to make three joints:

  • Acromioclavicular joint: Joint between the collar bone and the shoulder blade

  • Glenohumeral joint: Ball and socket joint

  • Scapula thoracic joint: Shoulder blade and the rib cage

  • Sternoclavicular joint: Collar bone and rib cage

In many cases, most shoulder joint pain is preventable by doing just one thing... moving it! It is important to remember that the shoulder joint has one of the largest motion ranges in the human body and loves to move. So, remember to stretch and exercise the shoulder joint regularly.


What Can Cause Shoulder Pain Without Injury?

When was the last time you raised your arm to reach for the ceiling or got your hand behind your back to touch the opposite shoulder blade? The fact is that our activities of daily living have become so easy that we rarely have to move joints to their full range.


Over time our joints start to disintegrate and degenerate. Lack of consistent full range movement causes muscle imbalances, a tightness that leads to tendinitis, bursitis, labrum tear, rotator cuff tears, etc.

happy woman with no shoulder pain

Common Causes of Shoulder Joint Pain

There are a variety of issues that can lead to shoulder joint pain. Acute shoulder joint pain and lasting shoulder joint pain can sometimes have similar causes. Let’s take a look at some of the common culprits.


  • Rotator Cuff Tendonitis/Tear: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that originate in the shoulder blade and attach to the humerus ball. Their primary function is to stabilize the head/ ball onto the socket when the arm is moving. Weakness or tear in the rotator cuff muscles leads to pinching the rotator cuff tendon between the head and the acromion and leads to impingement and pain.


  • Frozen Shoulder: Also known as Adhesive Capsulitis, is a condition wherein the capsule of the shoulder joint gets fibrosed. All movements, both active and passive range of motion, is lost. Frozen Shoulder is a very frustrating condition and takes six months to two years to resolve.


  • Biceps Tendinopathy: The biceps tendon runs in front of the shoulder joint and is prone to overload injuries and pinching. In this condition, the pain usually presents in the shoulder’s front with referral into the arm long the muscle belly.


  • Shoulder Bursitis: The bursa is a fluid-filled connective tissue whose primary function is to decrease friction between tendons, bone, and tendons. They also, to some extent, send sensory feedback to the brain. Uneven stress or load on the shoulder joint can cause the bursa to get inflamed and lead to a lot of pain and discomfort.


  • Shoulder Dislocation: Shoulder dislocation typically happens due to trauma. The shoulder dislocates in 3 directions: anterior (most common), posterior and inferior. The Shoulder is generally relocated in an emergency room setting.


  • Once The shoulder is relocated, one must undergo good quality rehab that focuses on shoulder multi-directional stability. In the absence of good rehab, the shoulder’s recurrent dislocation is common and will usually need to be fixed by surgical correction.


  • Labrum Tears: The labrum is a structure that deepens the socket on which the ball rest. Labral tears are a common occurrence with shoulder dislocation. They are among the most frequently repaired tissues in shoulder surgeries, especially in individuals who play sports. Not all labrum tears require surgery, though. Research has shown that quality physiotherapy, focusing on shoulder multi-directional stability, yields great results and surgery isn’t required.


  • Cervical Radiculopathy and Shoulder Pain: Not all shoulder joint pain has its epicentre in the shoulder. Nerve entrapment in the neck, tightness, and stress on the neck structures can also give pain in the shoulder. It is therefore essential that the cause of the shoulder pain is identified. Through a thorough examination, a physiotherapist or chiropractor will be able to tell you what is causing your pain and arrive at an accurate diagnosis.


As you can see, shoulder joint pain and injuries are pretty complex. You should never wait to treat shoulder pain as the condition could significantly worsen over time. Instead, book an appointment straight away with a reputable physiotherapist.


woman working out after shoulder physiotherapy

Shoulder Joint Pain Care at Home

In a scenario where you are in a lot of pain, especially in traumatic cases, it is important that you listen to your body. Icing the shoulder initially, 3-5 times each day, will help manage your pain.


Doing more with the shoulder in the initial stages following an injury is usually not recommended. In chronic conditions that involve shoulder joint pain, you can apply either heat or ice depending on what gives you more relief on the shoulder or neck. You can also apply them alternatively.


Find out activities or postures that irritate the shoulder and avoid them. For example, in case you have right-side shoulder joint pain, avoid sleeping on the right side as much as you can. Carrying heavyweight, repetitive overhead movements, pushing, pulling, etc. can greatly slow healing when overdone or when done in pain.