12 Reasons Why Your Shoulder Hurts
What are the reasons why you have shoulder pain? Shoulder pain is a common ache in the U.S. By some estimates, as many as 67% of people experience shoulder discomfort at some point over the course of their lives. The most mobile joint in your body, the shoulder is made up of bones held in place by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They’re all designed to work together to allow the shoulder to move freely in many different directions. This allows you to do everything from raising your arms over your head to throwing a baseball and scratching your back.
“Unfortunately, this mobility comes at the expense of stability, and that leaves the shoulder vulnerable to injury, says Clifford Stark, DO, medical director of Sports Medicine. Factor in the wear and tear of everyday life and it’s easy to see why you’re shouldering so much pain. You’ll need to consult your doctor for a formal diagnosis of your shoulder pain. That visit will include a physical exam, and possibly an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound. You may even be referred for physical therapy right off the bat, Dr. Stark says. Read on to learn about some of the many reasons why your shoulder might hurt and how to find relief.
Rotator cuff tendonitis
Of all the reasons you have shoulder pain, injury to your rotator cuff is the most common—in a recent study, two-thirds of people with shoulder pain had a rotator cuff problem. The rotator cuff is group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint. It keeps the ball of your upper arm bone centered in your shoulder socket and also helps you raise and rotate your arm.
Doing the same motion over and over again can lead to inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons, also called tendonitis, which can cause shoulder pain. “The rotator cuff is like a tire—with aging or frequent use it gets thinner and thinner and eventually wears down,” says Robert Gotlin, DO, a sports and spine physician. With tendonitis, shoulder pain and weakness are often mild at first and only noticeable when you move the joint; after a while, they can become more severe and occur all the time.
Rotator cuff tendonitis often gets better with a change in activities to avoid provoking pain so the tendon can heal. “There’s a fine line between doing too much and doing too little,” says Dr. Stark. “You don’t want to lift weights, but it’s okay to do things that don’t aggravate it”. Ice or heat to the shoulder and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce pain as well. Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist for manual therapy and strengthening exercises to keep your muscles moving and to challenge weaker muscles.
Rotator cuff tears
It’s also possible to partially or completely tear a shoulder tendon, either from repetitive motion or from direct trauma, like a fall.