Shoulder pain


Shoulder pain is any pain in or around the shoulder joint.

Alternative Names

Pain - shoulder


The shoulder is the most movable joint in the human body. A group of 4 muscles and their tendons, called the rotator cuff, give the shoulder its wide range of motion.

Swelling, damage, or bone changes around the rotator cuff can cause shoulder pain. You may have pain when lifting the arm above your head or moving it forward or behind your back.


The most common cause of shoulder pain occurs when rotator cuff tendons become trapped under the bony area in the shoulder. The tendons become inflamed or damaged. This condition is called rotator cuff tendinitis or bursitis.

Shoulder pain may also be caused by:

Sometimes, shoulder pain may be due to a problem in another area of the body, such as the neck or lungs. This is called referred pain. There is usually no pain when moving the shoulder.

Home Care

Here are some tips for helping shoulder pain get better:

Rotator cuff problems can be treated at home also.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Sudden shoulder pain can sometimes be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 if you have sudden pressure or crushing pain in your shoulder, especially if the pain runs from your chest to the left jaw, arm or neck, or occurs with shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating.

Go to the hospital emergency room if you have just had a severe injury and your shoulder is very painful, swollen, bruised, or bleeding.

Call your health care provider if you have:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and closely look at your shoulder. You will be asked questions to help the provider understand your shoulder problem.

Blood or imaging tests may be ordered to help diagnose the problem.

Your provider may recommend treatment for shoulder pain including:

If you have a rotator cuff problem, your provider will likely suggest self-care measures and exercises.


Martin SD, Thornhill TS. Shoulder pain. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al, eds. Kelly's Textbook of Rheumotology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 46.

Matzkin EG, Hampton DM, Gill TA. Shoulder diagnosis and decision making. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 43.

Review Date: 7/13/2015
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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