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Shoulder Pain

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What Is Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain is a feeling of discomfort arising  from the muscles, ligament, tendons or bones in the shoulder joint.

Shoulder pain may also have its source at the neck, heart or abdomen. Such a pain is called referral shoulder pain.

When left unattended, shoulder pain may aggravate and require medical intervention.

What Are The Symptoms Of Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain symptoms might vary as detailed below:

  • Sharp pain under the shoulder blade
  • Mild to dull aches in the shoulder hampering performance of chores
  • Stabbing sensation
  • Burning sensation or inflammation
  • Feelings of electric shocks
  • Radiating from neck to shoulder and vice versa

What Are The Conditions Of Shoulder That Causes Shoulder Pain?

The causes of shoulder pain can range from injuries to the bones, muscles or other tissues present in the shoulder to anomalies within other body parts such as the heart, belly, neck, lungs etc.  

Some common causes of shoulder pain are:

  • Rotator Cuff Problem: Caused by separation of the rotator cuff from the bone
  • Frozen Shoulder:  This is caused by rotator cuff tendonitis, leading to stiffness of the shoulder joint
  • Calcific Tendonitis: This condition is caused by deposits of calcium crystals within the rotator cuff tendons
  • SLAP Tears:  Tear of the shoulder joint when the patient falls on an outstretched hand, mostly commonly observed among sportsmen
  • Shoulder Instability: A traumatic injury or overuse of the shoulder for any activity can can cause the patient to feel unstable
  • Shoulder Dislocation: This occurs when the top of the arm bone disconnects from the scapula due to trauma
  • Others: Distal Clavicle Osteolysis, Bicep Tendonitis, Bicep Tendon Rupture, Shoulder Osteoarthritis and AC Arthritis


Other problems causing shoulder pain are:

  • Heart problems: Heart attacks or chest pain (also called angina)
  • Neck problems: Compressed nerves in the neck (called pinched nerves) can result in the radiating of the pain to the shoulder
  • Belly problems: Gallstones, pancreatitis, ovarian cyst, ectopic pregnancy may also cause the shoulder to pain
  • Belly surgery:  Surgery of the belly for weight loss, for gall bladder removal, etc cause irritation in the spine and nerves that subsequently trigger shoulder pains
  • Lung problems: Pneumonia, Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in lungs), Lung cancer or tumors in the lungs can also cause shoulder pain

How Can The Causes Of Shoulder Pain Be Diagnosed?

The potential causes of shoulder pain can be diagnosed by physical examinations at the local area of the pain and movement range of the shoulder.

Examination of neck, heart, abdomen etc. is also carried out to detect source of the pain.

Additionally, imaging tests are recommended to confirm a diagnosis, such as:

  • X-ray: To detect  injuries on the bones at the shoulder joint, osteoarthritis or bone spurs
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT): These scans are performed to provide detailed images of the tendons, ligaments and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint
  • Differential Diagnoses:  Methods to detect causes for referral shoulder pains such as electrocardiogram (ECG) for detecting a suspected heart attack or an abdominal ultrasound for suspected gallbladder disease

What Are The Treatments To Relieve Shoulder Pain?

The diagnostic reports help the doctor in determining the treatment approach to be taken for the shoulder pain.

  • Rest : Usually suggested for mild pains only
  • Ice and Heat Application: Pressing of the painful area with ice packs and / or heat pads  to reduce swelling and pain. This is also used for milder cases only
  • Physical therapy: Therapists use different physiotherapy methods to restore mobility or stamina to the pre-injury levels
  • Medications: Oral medications or steroid injections may sometimes be sufficient to treat the pain
  • Surgery: In cases where conservative methods do not work or in emergency, surgery is performed for bone replacement, to treat disclocation, removal of bone pieces or cartilage etc.

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