Common Shoulder Conditions

Common Shoulder Conditions

While the shoulder is a magnificent structure that allows 180 degrees of motion in different planes, the components are susceptible to damage through wear and tear and sudden injury. Shoulder conditions and their accompanying symptoms can range in severity from mild and bearable to severe and life-altering. Treatment options are available for these types of conditions.

If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort and want to know how to identify a shoulder injury, keep reading to learn more about the most common shoulder conditions and the symptoms to look for.

Shoulder Pain Causes and Risk Factors

The shoulder is a complex joint system that includes tendons, ligaments, and muscles. While the shoulder’s mechanisms make it possible to scratch your back, throw a ball, and do much more, the components that make up the shoulder can become damaged or injured for various reasons. Shoulder pain can be the result of various types of shoulder conditions. While some are caused by age, others stem from joint overuse or physical injury.

These are some of the most common causes of pain in the shoulder:



Shoulder arthritis is another cause of shoulder pain. While there are a few different types of arthritis, the condition categorically causes inflammation and tenderness of one or more joints. Over time, forms of arthritis like osteoarthritis lead to a loss of cartilage. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, and rotator cuff tear arthropathy are among the types of arthritis affecting the shoulder.

Arthritis can occur in the shoulder’s main ball and socket joint, known as the glenohumeral joint. It can also occur in the secondary shoulder joint, known as the acromioclavicular joint. When arthritis progresses, the bones in the joint rub against each other as the protective cartilage wears away.

The main symptoms of arthritis are pain and reduced range of motion. The symptom of limited range of motion may be coupled with grinding, clicking, or snapping sounds during shoulder movement. The symptoms of arthritis can appear in a mild form and gradually worsen as the condition progresses.

Treatment Options

Lifestyle changes like limiting activities that result in pain are one way of managing arthritis symptoms. Short-term treatments include anti-inflammatory medications and heat and ice therapy are also helpful. Cortisone injections can also help to ease shoulder pain as a long-term treatment option. While physical therapy can help minimize symptoms and improve range of motion, surgery is sometimes required to replace the damaged joint.


Bursitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the bursae. These fluid-filled sacs cushion the bones, muscles, and tendons around the joint. Bursitis is common in the shoulder but can also occur in knees, hips, elbows, and other joints. The condition usually occurs due to frequent repetitive motions of joints.

If you have bursitis in your shoulder joint, you might experience pain and stiffness. The area may also hurt more during movement and when applying pressure. Bursitis also causes swelling and redness around the joint.

Treatment Options

Although painful, bursitis usually subsides within a few weeks with proper treatment. Still, flare-ups are common. Medical care is essential if you experience symptoms of severe joint pain, loss of joint movement, severe swelling and redness, or a fever.

In this case, your doctor will use a surgical needle to remove excess fluid from the bursa and medication is used to alleviate swelling. In some cases, surgery can help properly drain inflamed bursa.

Shoulder Dislocation

A dislocation happens when the upper arm bone, the humerus, is forced from its position in the shoulder socket. Falls, sports injuries, and car accidents are among the most common causes of shoulder dislocations.

Severe pain and visible deformity of the shoulder are the two primary symptoms of a dislocation. Immobility, bruising, and swelling typically accompany these symptoms.

Treatment Options

Dislocations are severe injuries, and you should never attempt to relocate a joint yourself. An incorrect technique can damage the joint and surrounding ligaments, muscles, and nerves. Untreated dislocations can also lead to complications.

A medical practitioner may attempt to safely rectify shoulder dislocations nonsurgically. The shoulder ball portion of the shoulder is manually maneuvered back into the socket. While medical practitioners provide pain medications to manage severe pain, patients generally experience significant pain relief when the joint is back in its natural position. A sling is used to immobilize the joint as surrounding tissues recover from the trauma of the injury.

While physical therapy is beneficial during the recovery stage, surgery is sometimes recommended when shoulder stability is not restored.

Rotator Cuff Tear

rotator cuff tear occurs due to an injury of any of the four rotator cuff tendons. Sudden injuries from accidents and trauma are common causes of damage to these tendons, and it is among the most common shoulder injuries in sports. Degenerative tears are another common cause of this condition. Bone spurs can be the result of joint damage caused by arthritis. Blood flow to the shoulder decreases with age, leading to degenerative tendon tears, while overuse can also lead to tearing.

If you have a rotator cuff tear, you may experience pain, difficulty, and weakness when attempting to raise or lower your arm. You may hear popping and clicking sounds or feel crackling sensations. Shoulder pain that worsens at night or when resting can also result from a rotator cuff tear.

Treatment Options

There are a few nonsurgical treatment options, including using an arm sling to promote rest and shoulder pain recovery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections can help reduce pain and swelling in minor cases. Physical therapy is also recommended to promote healing and restore shoulder stability.

For severe rotator cuff tears, surgical treatments aim to remove bone spurs and reattach tendons to the upper arm bone. For partial rotator cuff tears, trimming torn tendons helps keep the shoulder ball and socket joint from bothering these tendons, which can lead to further damage.

Shoulder Fractures

Shoulder Fractures

A shoulder fracture refers to a bone break. Fractures in the shoulder blade, collarbone, and humerus bone can occur due to impact injuries. While these injuries can cause visible deformity of the shoulder, as with dislocations, this is only sometimes the case with severe fracture injuries.

Pressure and severe pain that intensifies with movement are the most common symptoms of shoulder fractures. Swelling and bruising are also common, and discoloration is sometimes present. Fractures also cause a loss of function.

Treatment Options

It’s vital to seek prompt medical attention for shoulder fractures. Prolonging or neglecting treatment can cause the bones to heal incorrectly, leading to complications.

Medical practitioners will immobilize the shoulder with a cast, sling, brace, or wrap. In severe cases, surgery is essential to repair shoulder fractures. In both cases, physical therapy can promote healing following the initial recovery stage.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. This condition affects the capsule of tissue surrounding the shoulder joint by causing it to become thicker and tighter. As a result of the thickening, movements become restricted. While the cause of a frozen shoulder is not well understood, the condition can set in after surgery or an arm fracture.

Shoulder pain and stiffness are common symptoms of a frozen shoulder. Movement becomes more strenuous, and the range of motion gradually decreases as the condition progresses. The symptoms typically set in slowly and gradually worse. However, symptoms can dissipate within one to three years of the onset.

Treatment Options

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage the onset and progression of pain and inflammation. Sometimes, medical practitioners will prescribe pain relievers for moderate to severe pain.

Physical therapy is beneficial in treating this condition. Still, steroid injections or hydro-dilatation injections can reduce pain, improve mobility, and stretch the tissue surrounding the joint.

Medical practitioners may also recommend a nonsurgical shoulder manipulation procedure that requires a general anesthetic. During the procedure, the shoulder joint is manually moved in different directions to stretch the tightened tissue, improving mobility. Frozen shoulder surgery can help remove scar tissue from within the shoulder joint. However, this surgery is rarely necessary to improve symptoms.

Shoulder Impingement

This condition, also called swimmer’s shoulder, is one of the more common shoulder injuries in sports. When the top bone of the shoulder rubs against the tendon, it causes impingement. Frequent rubbing leads to inflammation and pain. The most common cause is overuse of the joint and tendons with overhead activities. As a result, athletes and swimmers are more prone to developing this condition.

Pain in the shoulder, neck, and arm that worsens when performing overhead activities is among the most common symptoms of shoulder impingement. The pain usually eases with rest. Joint stiffness and tenderness are also common. Weakness of the shoulder muscles and a limited range of motion are also associated with this shoulder condition.

Treatment Options

Anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections can reduce pain and improve range of motion. Rest and physical therapy can help speed up recovery. Sometimes, surgery is required to remove inflamed tissue in the shoulder, although most cases are treatable without surgery.


SLAP stands for superior labrum, anterior to posterior. The labrum is the ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket. A SLAP tear explains a labrum that is torn from the front to the back. These injuries are common when falling on an outstretched arm, although they can also occur from excessive overhead activities or heavy lifting motions.

A popping sound and sensation typically accompany pain and discomfort during shoulder movements. The pain can be a persistent and dull ache or a sharp pain that is felt deep in the shoulder.

Treatment Options

Rest is essential for these common shoulder injuries, and immobilizing the arm is recommended. Over-the-counter pain and inflammation medications can help manage symptoms.

While physical therapy is beneficial, surgery is sometimes necessary. During surgical treatments, surgeons attempt to rectify dislocations and may repair a torn labrum.


Shoulder or bicep tendonitis is caused by inflammation of the rotator cuff or bicep tendon. While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, injuries and repetitive motions can cause it. Tendonitis occurs due to inflammation and is called rotator cuff tendonitis when the rotator cuff tendons are affected and biceps tendonitis when the bicep tendons are affected.

While the symptoms of tendonitis can range from mild to severe, they include pain and stiffness. Pain typically increases at night. Patients with bicep tendonitis also tend to experience loss of mobility and difficulty holding the arm in certain positions. A clicking sound is also common during shoulder movements.

Treatment Options

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen can help manage pain and symptoms of swelling. Additional treatment options include corticosteroid injections for shoulder pain and platelet-rich plasma therapy. While cortisone injections can alleviate severe pain, platelet-rich plasma therapy can speed up recovery.

In more severe cases, medical practitioners may recommend surgery when tendons are partially or completely torn or when symptoms do not improve with other treatments. The surgery aims to repair the damaged tendons and remove inflamed bursae.

How is Shoulder Pain Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a shoulder condition requires a physical examination and sometimes additional diagnostic tests. Because the symptoms of different shoulder conditions can overlap, these tests can help medical practitioners accurately determine the source of your pain:

How Shoulder Pain Is Diagnosed

  • Physical examination: During a physical examination, a medical practitioner will look for visible abnormalities like swelling, muscle weakness, and deformity. Your practitioner will also evaluate your range of motion and check for tenderness.
  • X-ray: X-rays can reveal bone injuries like fractures and dislocations.
  • MRI scan: Magnetic resonance imaging scans provide a better image than X-rays as they can reveal flaws in soft tissues. Your medical practitioner can identify ligament and tendon injuries in the shoulder area.
  • CT Scan: Computed tomography scans also provide a detailed view of the bones in the shoulder structure.
  • Electromyography: EMG tests can accurately evaluate nerve function in the shoulder, which can help diagnose or rule out the possibility of nerve dysfunction.
  • Arthroscopy: This surgical procedure allows medical practitioners to look inside the shoulder structure using a fiber-optic camera. The procedure may expose soft tissue injuries that are otherwise difficult to diagnose through a physical examination and other testing methods. Medical practitioners can also rectify the issue during the procedure, depending on the nature and severity of the injury.

Your medical practitioner will recommend the most suitable diagnostic tests after performing a physical examination.

Schedule an Appointment with the Hand Center of Louisiana

Schedule an Appointment

If you are experiencing discomfort and keep asking yourself why your shoulder is in pain, diagnosis is essential to finding the right treatment. The Hand Center of Louisiana provides fully integrated care for nonsurgical and surgical hand and upper extremity conditions. Our dedicated physicians will perform extensive medical evaluations using state-of-the-art in-house diagnostic technologies to tailor the most suitable treatment program for your condition.

You can schedule appointments directly by calling our fully automated self-service numbers. Alternatively, you can request an appointment online to start your recovery journey today.