What’s Causing Your Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain can be a difficult and painful experience. Most of us don’t think about our shoulders when they’re functioning well. A normal shoulder should have a smooth, easy range of motion. When it doesn’t work this way, the results can be very painful.

Although shoulder pain can be intense, it’s also treatable. The doctors at Arizona Center for Hand to Shoulder Surgery in Mesa and Phoenix, AZ, offer this guide to help you find out what’s causing your shoulder pain and how to treat it. 

Causes of shoulder pain

You use your shoulders every day in performing simple tasks like brushing your hair or reaching for items above your head. When these activities become painful, it can really interfere with your quality of life. Here are some of the most common causes of shoulder pain

Rotator cuff injuries

The rotator cuff is the joint that connects your arm to your shoulder blade, as well as the four muscles and tendons that surround it. Small sacs called bursae provide lubricating fluid to the joint, which helps a healthy rotator cuff to function properly.

The joints in the rotator cuff are often damaged as a result of repetitive motions. These repetitive motions can cause tendinitis, muscle sprains, or even complete tearing of the tendons. A tear in the rotator cuff is most likely to cause more symptoms at night.

Impingement syndrome

This condition occurs when the tendons in your shoulder tear and become caught on your shoulder bone. It is most likely to occur as a result of overuse. Athletes who play certain sports, including swimming, baseball, and tennis are most likely to develop this condition.


Also called osteoarthritis, this condition occurs over time as the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears away. You may notice that old shoulder injuries seem to hurt more when arthritis sets in. Sometimes, we may give you a shot of a corticosteroid medication to reduce the swelling.

Referred pain 

Sometimes, shoulder pain actually comes from an injury or problem with a different part of your body. This might occur if you have pulled a muscle in your back, a pinched nerve, or even lung problems like pneumonia. 

In some cases, shoulder pain can also be a symptom of a heart attack, especially if you also have other symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing. Call 911 immediately if you have any reason to suspect you could be having a heart attack. 


Mild pain can sometimes be treated with simple interventions. This is more likely to be effective if you pulled a muscle or have a swollen tendon. Home treatment for shoulder pain can include the following: 

  • Putting ice on the affected shoulder
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen sodium)
  • Resting your shoulder and avoiding heavy lifting or motions that raise your arms above your head
  • Corticosteroid medication, which must be prescribed by a doctor
  • Physical therapy

Surgical treatment for shoulder pain

Sometimes, despite home treatment, your shoulder pain continues to get worse. That’s when you need to call us. Shoulder injuries that have persisted for a long time generally require surgical intervention.

Some types of surgical intervention for pain include tendon repair, releasing trapped nerves, and total joint replacement. Whether your shoulder pain is caused by an overuse injury, arthritis, or other causes, surgery can often help. Call one of our offices today or request an appointment online

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