Causes of shoulder pain

Shoulder pain is very common and will affect most people at some point in their lives. 

It is typically not serious and most shoulder problems improve with time, simple changes to lifestyle and appropriate exercises. 

Thumbnail
Poor exercise technique can cause shoulder pain

Causes of shoulder pain can differ with age

In young people, the most common cause is shoulder instability. This normally occurs after an injury and causes the shoulder to partially or fully dislocate.  Some children and young adults who are naturally double-jointed experience this without injuring themselves.

In middle age, people commonly experience pain from the tendons in the shoulder called the rotator cuff. This can start after strenuous activity or trauma such as a fall but can start for no reason at all. People typically find that it is painful raising their arm overhead and the arm may feel weaker than usual. It can be confusing as this problem is known by various names such as subacromial shoulder pain, rotator cuff, tendinopathy and bursitis but they all describe the same symptoms.

The other common cause of shoulder pain in middle age is a frozen shoulder that gives quite significant pain, especially at night, and restricts the amount a person can move their shoulder in any direction.

In later years, people may develop arthritis of the shoulder. This also can restrict the movement of the joint and cause pain. Subacromial shoulder pain also becomes more common as people age. These problems can normally be managed in the first instance without the need to attend hospital.

More serious problems

However, if you have any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical help more urgently:

  • A lump or swelling on or around your shoulder
  • Red skin and pain over the shoulder with a fever and general feeling of being unwell
  • A sudden change in shape of your shoulder after an injury/epileptic fit/electric shock
  • Pain and difficulty raising your arm after an injury