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Shoulder Pain

You probably don’t think about your shoulders much, until you get a sudden sharp pain in one of them. When your shoulder starts to hurt, performing simple acts such as combing your hair, reaching behind to scratch your back or even grabbing a plate from your overhead shelf can become a challenge. Shoulder pains should not be ignored.

What is Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain refers to any kind of pain in or around the shoulder joint. But before we move on to the technicalities of shoulder pain, it is best to understand the anatomy of the shoulder.

The human shoulder is made up of three bones and they are:

  • Humerus: – Upper arm bone.
  • Scapula: – Shoulder blade.
  • Clavicle: – Collarbone.

The top of the humerus fits into a rounded socket in your scapula which is called the glenoid. There are 4 tendons and muscles that keep your arm bone centred in your shoulder socket and these are known as the rotator cuff. They cover the humerus and attach it to your scapula, allowing a wide range of movement in the shoulder. So, any kind of swelling, damage or bone changes around the rotator cuff in your shoulder can cause it to hurt.

A girl has pain on her shoulder

Causes of Shoulder Pain

Most shoulder pain and problems can be divided into 4 major categories:

  • Tendon inflammation (bursitis or tendinitis) or tendon tear
  • Instability: – Dislocated or separated shoulder
  • Arthritis: – Inflammation of one or more joints, causing stiffness and pain that gets worse with age
  • Fracture: – Such as fractured collarbone, shoulder blade or arm
a doctor examining a patient

Massaging a pained shoulder


Bursae are small, fluid-filled bags that are located all over your body, in the joints. They act as soft cushions between the bones and the soft tissues, reducing friction between the muscles and the bones.

When your shoulders are used excessively, the bursa that is located between the rotator cuff and the acromion gets inflamed and swells up. This results in a condition called subacromial bursitis.



Tendinitis occurs when a tendon (most commonly is one of the 4 tendons in the rotator cuff) that connects the muscle to the bone gets inflamed. It can be one of two types:

Acute: - Caused by excessive overhead activities like ball throwing.

Chronic: - Caused by degenerative diseases like arthritis.


Signs and Symptoms of
Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain symptoms can start out mild but gradually build over several weeks or you might experience sudden, sharp pains. If you are experiencing these symptoms, do consult your doctor immediately.

  • warmth or redness around your shoulder,
  • neck pain, arm pain, or back pain,
  • a clicking, popping or grinding feeling when you move your arm,
  • muscle stiffness and weakness, and/or
  • limited range of motion.
Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Pain

Treatments for Shoulder Pain

Treatment for shoulder pain typically depends on the cause and severity of symptoms, and some mild pain can be managed at home. Applying an ice pack to your shoulder for 15 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break, can provide relief. Repeat this 3 to 4 times daily for 2 to 3 days while resting your shoulder and avoiding excessive movement. Over-the-counter NSAIDs or painkillers may also help, but consult your doctor or pharmacist for guidance. However, for a comprehensive and tailored treatment plan, it's recommended to consult a physiotherapist specialising in shoulder rehab.

Do take note that sudden left shoulder pain can also be a sign of a heart attack! If you have sudden pressure or unbearable pain in your left shoulder, call the emergency hotline immediately. The pain can also move from your chest to the left jaw, arm or neck and can occur with shortness of breath, dizziness or sweating.

Treatments for Shoulder Pain


  • How do I get my shoulder to stop hurting?

    There are different ways to relieve shoulder pain. You can take pain medications or apply cold compresses. But before your pain progresses, you are advised to visit a physiotherapist for a shoulder rehab to get your pain treated professionally.

  • What is the most common cause of shoulder pain?

    The most common cause is when the rotator cuff tendons become inflamed or when the bursa gets inflamed.

  • What are the signs of arthritis in the shoulders?

    • Sharp pains in the shoulder joint
    • Stiffness of the shoulder joints
    • Grinding, clicking or cracking can be felt in the shoulder
  • What is the best anti-inflammatory medicine for shoulder pain?

    Ibuprofen and naproxen are commonly recommended by doctors.

  • What does a torn ligament in the shoulder feel like?

    You may feel a snapping sensation and immediate pain and weakness in your upper arm.

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