Shoulder pain can come from a number of different situations and scenarios.

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint with three parts. There is the humerus, the clavicle, and the scapula, which is often referred to as the shoulder blade. The deterioration of cartilage between these bones can lead to chronic shoulder pain (arthritis). Likewise, a dislocation between these areas will likely cause significant pain and possible tearing of structures like the labrum, biceps tendon, or rotator cuff tendons.

In this article, we review some of the conditions that cause shoulder pain, the types of pain, and the diagnosis process for shoulder pain.

Conditions That Cause Shoulder Pain

Sometimes shoulder pain emerges from an athletic injury or some type of repetitive motion that induces a chronic condition. Some types of repetitive actions in the workplace can cause shoulder pain. In some cases, shoulder pain happens with age.

Arthritis, bone spurs, a dislocated shoulder, and some tendon problems can cause shoulders to be sore or tender. 

  • Arthritis:  Chronic degeneration of the cartilage in the shoulder exposing the sensitive underlying bone.  
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis/bursitis: One of the most common causes of shoulder pain, rotator cuff tendonitis is where swollen tendons and inflamed bursa (sac of fluid above the rotator cuff) causes soreness and ache. 
  • Impingement syndrome: A condition that affects the rotator cuff due to irritation from a tight subacromial space (area above the rotator cuff)
  • Tears (labrum, rotator cuff, or biceps):  These structures can be torn from overuse and repetitive activity or a single traumatic event like a dislocation.

Types of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain varies due to a variety of factors, including your health conditions, age, and activity levels. How the pain feels and where it is located can be very helpful in diagnosing what condition you might be suffering from. 

  • Brief, flashing pain when exhibiting a certain type of motion
  • Intermittent dull pain that radiates from some part of the shoulder joint or surrounding tissue with or without motion
  • Sensations of pins and needles, or tingling, as well as burning pain

If you notice pain in your shoulder, start taking notes of the activities that precede the pain, as well as how long the pain lasts. Doctors may ask patients to keep track of what level pain is at on any given day over a period of time to help determine the cause of the shoulder pain. 

Diagnosing Shoulder Pain

Doctors have to consider all of the above in helping a patient with shoulder pain. First, doctors will ascertain what’s behind a problem by evaluating the shoulder pain, a thorough examination, and then create a diagnosis. They will perform a range of motion evaluations and special tests.

Location is a big factor as well.  If the pain is only in one shoulder, it may be an issue with a rotator cuff or some other kind of motion-based or traumatic injury. The pain that is in both shoulders is more likely to be a chronic condition like arthritis.

Pain while performing a range of motion and strength testing or an inability to do them, will provide some clues as to the nature and origin of shoulder pain. Doctors may require x-rays, CT or MRI scans, or ultrasounds in order to get a clearer picture of what’s going on beneath the skin.

After finding the cause of the pain, medical practitioners are then able to offer different paths for recovery. While some chronic pain may be managed with medications or injections, ongoing problems may require surgery.

Don’t Wait It Out

If you’ve noticed recurring pain in your shoulder, talk to a professional orthopedic shoulder specialist. Waiting for the pain to go away can often result in a more severe injury, which in turn could mean surgery and lasting damage to your body.

M. Daniel Hatch, M.D., located in the Park City and Heber City areas, is able to help individuals find solutions concerning their shoulder, arm, and elbow pain.

Schedule an appointment with The Orthopedic Partners, an RCM Clinic to get your shoulder pain treated.