Often shoulder pain goes away in a few weeks, but it’s important to see a doctor if:
It may be the sign of an injury or medical condition that can be treated.
There are different types of shoulder pain depending on the cause:
Chronic (long-term) pain
This is often a symptom of wear and tear of the joint caused by osteoarthritis, where the cartilage at the ends of the bones wears away, so the bones rub together painfully. Rheumatoid arthritis, frozen shoulder or a trapped nerve can also cause long-term shoulder pain.
Pain that gets worse with movement
This is often caused by a rotator cuff injury, which affect the band of muscles and tendons surrounding your shoulder joint. Injury or wear and tear to the rotator cuff can cause tendonitis, bursitis and shoulder impingement.
You're more likely to have this kind of shoulder pain if you play a lot of sport or work in a job that involves repetitive movement and reaching of your arms.
Sudden or severe onset of pain
This usually follows an injury such as a:
It can also be a sign of septic arthritis – an infection of the shoulder joint.
Shoulder pain may also be referred, which means it comes from another area of your body, but you feel it in your shoulder. This could include back pain – including upper back pain, whiplash injury, or chest or heart conditions.
It’s important to seek immediate medical advice if you experience:
Your doctor will discuss your shoulder pain with you and carry out a physical examination. This may include assessing your range of movement.
Other investigations may include:
In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a shoulder specialist – an orthopaedic consultant or a rheumatologist (who specialises in diagnosing and treating musculo-skeletal problems and arthritis).
There are a number of treatments to relieve shoulder pain including:
If the pain doesn’t improve your doctor may arrange for you to have physiotherapy or a steroid injection into the shoulder.
In some cases, you may need to have surgery to repair a rotator cuff injury, release a frozen shoulder, or you may need shoulder joint replacement surgery.