Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is the joint that connects your arms to your body. The bones that form the shoulder joint include the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). The top of the humerus is shaped like a ball and fits into a rather flat socket on the scapula (glenoid cavity). A combination of muscles and strong, fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones (tendons) support your shoulder joint and hold the ball in the socket. Small, fluid-filled sacs (bursae) are located in different areas of the joint. They act as cushions between the bones and the overlying soft tissues and help reduce friction between the gliding tendons and the bone as you move your arm. Your shoulder joint allows a wide range of motion in your arm. This range of motion allows you to do things like scratch your back or throw a ball. However, this range of motion also makes your shoulder more prone to pain from overuse and injury.

Causes of shoulder pain can originate from both injury and overuse and usually can be grouped in the following four categories:

  • Redness, swelling, and pain (inflammation) of the tendon (tend i nitis) or the bursae (bursitis).

  • Instability, such as a dislocation of the joint.

  • Inflammation of the joint (arthritis).

  • Broken bone (fracture).


  • Apply ice to the sore area.

  • Put ice in a plastic bag.

  • Place a towel between your skin and the bag.

  • Leave the ice on for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times per day for the first 2 days.

  • If you have a shoulder sling or immobilizer, wear it as long as your caregiver instructs. Only remove it to shower or bathe. Move your arm as little as possible, but keep your hand moving to prevent swelling.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.


  • Your shoulder pain increases, or new pain develops in your arm, hand, or fingers.

  • Your hand or fingers become cold and numb.

  • Your pain is not relieved with medicines.


  • Your arm, hand, or fingers are numb or tingling.

  • Your arm, hand, or fingers are significantly swollen or turn white or blue.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.