Shoulder pain is not tolerable in many cases and you need the help of a shoulder surgeon to recommend the right treatment. Before moving to causes, here is an overview of how shoulders work.


In medical terms, the shoulder joint is essentially a ball and socket joint. It is composed of 3 bones, namely the humerus (long bone of the arm), the clavicle (collar bone) and the scapula (shoulder blade). These bones are protected by a layer of cartilage tissue for added support.

The shoulder joint is encased by the rotator cuff tendons, which imparts a free range of motion to the joint. The rotator cuff tendons are parts of the body that connect the muscle to the bone. If you suffer from rotator cuff tears or injuries, it can be especially harder to move the joint upwards or forwards.

The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in our bodies. Not only does it allow the shoulder to move forwards and backwards, it also imparts a circular free range of motion to the arm, and also the ability to move the arm towards or away from the body.

In many cases, shoulder pain is fully treatable at home, but some advanced disease processes and severe injuries may need medical attention and surgical evaluation.

Here’s all that you need to know about shoulder pains, most important causes and their treatments:

Causes Of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder aches and pains are not that common in the younger population, but it is more commonly seen in the elder age population as a result of wear and tear, chronic inflammatory conditions or subsequent medical conditions that can aggravate shoulder pain. Some important causes include:

  • The most prevalent cause is rotator cuff tendinitis, which simply put is an inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons that can hamper the range of motion of the joint.
  • Another common cause is impingement syndrome of the shoulder, in which the rotator cuff tendons get caught up between the acromion and the humeral head.
  • Different medical conditions can also cause referred pain in the shoulder area. Common examples include heart attacks, angina and gallbladder pain. Referred pain is usually treatable if you treat the underlying cause. You can differentiate referred pain by a simple test, in that the pain doesn’t get worse if you move the shoulders up and down.
  • Another common cause of shoulder pain are different types of arthritic inflammations, namely osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions cause pain and inflammation of the bursa, cartilage and bone that can subsequently lead to shoulder pain.
  • Other less common traumatic causes of shoulder pain include suffering an injury directly to the shoulder region, a dislocated shoulder bone, spinal cord injuries.
  • Frozen shoulder is also a very common cause of shoulder pain seen in the middle age population, due to rotator cuff tendinitis. It is especially common is diabetic females.

How Is The Diagnosis Made?

A shoulder pain diagnosis is usually pretty straight forward with a simple history and physical exam.

Additional prerequisites for a diagnosis may include some blood tests, a plain X-ray of the involved joint and an MRI scan.

Treatment Options For Shoulder Pain

Treatment options depend on the severity and cause behind the pain. Some options include physical rehabilitation, slings or immobilization of the affected joint or surgical interventions.


Depending on the inflammation involved, or if you suffer from arthritis, your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) or a trail of corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that modulate the immune response of the body towards inflammatory agents. These drugs can be taken orally or directly injected into the joint capsule.


Minor shoulder pains can be treated at home by simply taking some over the counter medications and a 15-minute icing session 2-3 times a day to ward off the swelling and pain.


Some traumatic injuries may necessitate shoulder immobilization. At times, it is crucial to take adequate rest and restrict all shoulder and arm movements that may aggravate the pain or even worse, cause dislocation of the humeral head.


When a complicated injury happens, some doctors may suggest surgery to fix the tendons or the dislocated bone by hand.

And there you have it, a comprehensive guide on how shoulders work, common causes and the treatment options available. Let your orthopedic doctor McLean guide you and help you recover quickly.