Understanding and Dealing With Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain and injury are very common as the shoulder has so much going on in it. The shoulder is a complex ball and socket joint that is made up of the humerus (arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collar bone). There are many ligaments that help support the shoulder and many muscular attachments that help move the shoulder. It is an extremely mobile joint that allows people to reach and move in many directions.

There are many causes of shoulder pain, but most cases will only affect a small area and are relatively short-lived. Shoulder pain might also be part of a general condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. It isn’t always caused by a problem in the shoulder joint – problems in the neck can also cause pain that’s felt over the shoulder blade or in the upper outer arm.

What causes shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain could be caused by one of the following conditions:

Rotator cuff problem – shoulder or upper arm pain, particularly when lifting the arm, lying on it or using the sore muscles.
Acromioclavicular joint pain – painful joint on the tip of the shoulder where the collarbone and shoulder blade join.
Frozen shoulder – is the painful and gradual stiffening of the shoulder capsule.
Referred shoulder pain – pain is experienced in an area away from the actual injury or problem e.g. pain in the shoulder which is usually referred from the neck or upper back.
Osteoarthritis – progressive wearing away of the cartilage of the joint leading to the two bones of the joint rubbing together causing pain.
Shoulder instability – dislocation or excessive movement of the shoulder joint.

What can be done to help?

Because the shoulder is made up of so many bones, ligaments and muscles it can be difficult to get to the root cause of your pain. A diagnosis from a physiotherapist is essential. Once you know what’s wrong, treatment can begin.

Medication – Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may help and should be taken regularly to help control the pain and allow you to continue exercising. Rubbing an anti-inflammatory cream onto the painful area can help too.

Physiotherapy – If shoulder pain is affecting your activity, a physiotherapist may be able to help. A physiotherapist can help manage the pain and improve your strength and flexibility. They can also provide a variety of treatments such as PAMM therapy (link) and can help you understand your problem and get you back to normal activities.

Rest and exercise – Aim for a balance between rest and activity to prevent the shoulder from stiffening. Try to avoid movements that are most painful, especially those that hold your arm away from your body and above shoulder height. It’s important to remain active, even if you have to limit how much you do.
Posture – Poor posture or working habits can make the problems worse, this can include shoulders becoming rounded and slouching. When sitting, keep a pillow or cushion behind your lower back with your arm supported on a cushion on your lap.

Typically, shoulder pain lasts about four to eight weeks. After a few weeks of treatment, you should notice an improvement in your condition and by keeping your shoulders mobile and strong, shoulder pain can improve quickly and future episodes of pain can be avoided. If you’d like to book an appointment with us to help treat your shoulder pain please call 0114 268 6677 or email info@sheffieldphysiotherapy.co.uk.

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.