Shoulder joint pain can range from mild to severe, depending on the underlying cause. Possible causes include osteoarthritis of the shoulder, a rotator cuff tear, bursitis, and instability of the shoulder joint.

Many pathologies can cause pain in the shoulder joint. Some specifically affect the shoulders, while others can affect other parts of the body. This article mainly focuses on the causes of shoulder pain which primarily affects the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues. It also lists the symptoms of shoulder joint pain, tips for managing it, and more.

Symptoms of shoulder joint pain

Shoulder pain can be dull or sharp and can range from mild to severe, depending on the cause. People may find that the pain gets worse with general movement or only occurs when they make certain movements or carry weight on their shoulders. The shoulder may also lose some of its mobility and be stiff and swollen, making it difficult to perform daily tasks.

Rotator cuff tear

The rotator cuff includes four muscles that surround the upper arm bone called the humerus. Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of shoulder pain.
It can result from a sudden injury or from degenerative causes. Degenerative causes of a tear can include:

wear and tear
long-term overuse
The tear can be partial, with small tears, or complete, when the tendon completely separates from the bone.

Symptoms may be as follows

weakness when lifting or rotating the arm
pain from raising and lowering the arm
a clicking sensation in the shoulder joint after movement
pain that occurs at rest or at night and may worsen when lying on the shoulder.


Treatment for rotator cuff tears varies depending on the extent of the tear, the person’s age, general health, and activity level. These approaches can range from rest to surgery.

Here are some common examples

nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
changes in activities
steroid injections
surgical repair


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is usually associated with injury or wear and tear.

Although osteoarthritis is most common in the hip or knee, approximately one in three people over the age of 60 suffer from shoulder osteoarthritis. Onset is usually slow, developing over several years. The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain, which gets worse with movement and progresses over time. The pain may eventually persist at night and disrupt sleep. Other symptoms may include a popping or cracking sound when moving, loss of mobility, and stiffness.


There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but a person can take steps to manage the pain.

Here are some treatment options

painkillers, such as
anti-inflammatories, such as NSAIDs
orthopedic devices
hot or cold therapy
flexibility and strength training
medicated creams
Surgery may also be considered as a last resort.


Tendinitis refers to inflammation and swelling of the tendons in the shoulder. It often affects the rotator cuff tendons. Tendinitis can be acute or chronic. Acute means the pain came on suddenly as a result of an injury, while chronic means the pain is due to long-term wear and tear. A person will experience tenderness and swelling in the front of the shoulder, which extends to the side of the arm. She also feels pain and stiffness when raising and lowering her arm.

The first symptoms of tendonitis may be mild. However, as the condition progresses, the person experiences:

pain at night
a loss of strength
loss of movement

Treatment for tendinitis may include

physical therapy
cortisone injections
surgical intervention
rest and modification of activities


Shoulder instability is often due to damage to the tissues or bones of the shoulder. It causes a dislocation of the humerus in relation to the articular cavity.

It can cause the following symptoms

a limited range of motion
shoulder stiffness
creaking or rattling sensation
tingling or burning sensation
Young and athletic people have a higher risk of developing this condition.


Treatments for tendinitis can vary but may include

immobilization of the shoulder
avoidance of activities that aggravate it
physical therapy
surgical correction


Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that develop in joints all over the body, including the shoulders. They cushion the joints and help them move smoothly. Overuse of the shoulder joint can cause swelling and inflammation. It is a common cause of shoulder pain.
Pain is a common symptom of bursitis. It can occur at rest or worsen with activities such as:

raise your arms to the side
the rotation of the arms
applying downward pressure to the shoulders
The pain may occur on the outside or on top of the shoulders.


Treatment for bursitis depends on the severity of the condition. For some, exercise, including stretching and resistance exercises, rest, and ice may be enough. Others may need additional medical attention, which may include the use of painkillers and, in severe cases, surgery.

The shoulder impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff catch on the acromion, the bony point at the top of the shoulder blade. Raising the arm can compress the space between the two parts of the body, which increases pain and irritation.

The main symptom is sudden or sharp pain when stretching the arm behind the back or above the head. A person may also feel

a weakness
a constant, dull pain in the shoulder or arm
worsening pain at night


Treatments can vary depending on the severity of the condition. They usually involve using NSAIDs to help control pain and inflammation. A doctor may also recommend physical therapy or surgical correction in more severe cases.


Several bones make up the shoulder. Each of these can break or fracture, leading to pain, weakness, and potential loss of motion or mobility. A fracture often occurs as a result of blunt trauma. It can be a sudden fall or impact, such as in contact sports or a car accident.

In addition to pain, a person may experience the following symptoms

loss of mobility
an inability to move the shoulder
a grinding sensation when a person moves their shoulder.


Treatment for fractures often involves aligning the bones if necessary and applying a cast to immobilize the shoulder. Surgery may also be required.
Doctors may prescribe or recommend pain medications and anti-inflammatories.

Management of shoulder joint pain at home

A person may be able to manage shoulder pain at home. However, if the symptoms do not improve, she can see a medical professional for a diagnosis.

Here are some potential ways to manage shoulder pain:

hot or cold therapy
strength or flexibility training
over-the-counter pain relievers or NSAIDs
adopt a good posture
modification of the person’s activities


Shoulder joint pain can be due to a variety of causes, such as bursitis, osteoarthritis, or a rotator cuff tear. Treatments depend on the underlying cause. However, it usually includes rest, ice or heat therapy, and pain medication. In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.