Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is a common symptom that has several possible causes. Your shoulder allows you to move your arms. Its wide range of motion makes it more at risk of injury. Some of the most common causes are arthritis, muscle strain or dislocation. Treatment could include rest, medications or surgery but it varies by the cause.


The bones and muscles in and around your shoulder joint that can cause shoulder pain.
Shoulder pain is any discomfort you feel around your shoulder joint.

What is shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain is any discomfort you feel around your shoulder joint. The shoulder is a complex joint that allows you to throw a ball, reach for an item or give someone a high five. Because of how often you use it, your shoulder is more at risk of injury and damage, which can cause pain.

What does shoulder pain feel like?

Shoulder pain varies based on the cause but you can feel the following when in motion or at rest:

  • Weakness.
  • Aching or throbbing.
  • Stiffness.
  • Soreness.
  • Popping.

Severe shoulder pain that’s usually the result of an injury may cause:

  • Sudden pain.
  • Sharp, stabbing pain.
  • Limited ability to move your arm.
  • Swelling.
  • Bruising.
  • Pain that doesn’t go away and gets worse.
  • Discomfort that wakes you up or prevents you from sleeping.

Visit a healthcare provider or the emergency room (ER) if you have severe shoulder pain.

What is the shoulder?

The shoulder is a joint, or a contact point between bones, that gives your arms a wide range of motion. Your shoulders are located at the corners of your torso, at the top of your arms. You have two shoulders, one on the left and right side of your body. The shoulder joint contains three bones:

  • The upper part of your arm bone (humerus).
  • The shoulder blade (scapula).
  • The collarbone (clavicle).

Two joints within your shoulder help it move:

  • Acromioclavicular joint: Where the shoulder blade and collarbone meet.
  • Glenohumeral joint: Where the rounded top of your upper arm bone fits into your shoulder blade.

The shoulder contains the following parts:

  • Acromion: A bone at the top, outer edge of your shoulder blade.
  • Bursa: A fluid-filled sac within your joint that provides cushioning.
  • Coracoid: A bone that extends out from the shoulder blade and attaches muscles and ligaments.
  • Labrum: Cartilage that stabilizes the joint socket.
  • Rotator cuff: Muscles that sit between your shoulder blade and your upper arm bone that support and stabilize your joint.

Can shoulder pain affect other parts of my body?

It’s common to have shoulder pain that spreads to other parts of your body, like your neck, for example. The anatomy of the shoulder connects your arm to your torso, so pain can radiate from your shoulder to other connected parts of your body.

Should I be worried if I have shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain is common. If you have severe shoulder pain that gets worse or lasts more than a couple of days, you may have an injury to your shoulder or an underlying condition that’s causing pain. Pain with swelling can also be a sign of an injury. Visit a healthcare provider if you have severe shoulder pain that’s persistent, limits your motion or prevents you from going about your day normally.


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Possible Causes

What causes shoulder pain?

There are several possible causes of shoulder pain. The most common include:

A healthcare provider will diagnose the cause of your pain after a review of your symptom(s) and a physical exam. A diagnosis usually involves imaging tests like a shoulder X-ray to help your provider see the bones underneath your skin.

Is shoulder pain a sign of a heart attack?

Shoulder pain on its own isn’t a sign of a heart attack. If you have sudden, intense shoulder pain on the left side of your body and any of the following symptoms, call 911 or your local emergency services number immediately:

Is shoulder blade pain a sign of cancer?

Certain types of lung cancer, like a Pancoast tumor in the top part of your lung, can cause shoulder blade pain in addition to upper back pain. The location of cancer in your body can affect where you have pain. For a cancer screening, visit your healthcare provider.

Are neck and shoulder pain a sign of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 could include muscle weakness or aches. If you suspect you have COVID-19 or had exposure to it, complete a COVID-19 test and talk with your healthcare provider.

Can carpal tunnel cause shoulder pain?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain and weakness in your hand and wrist. Symptoms of carpal tunnel can affect your shoulder. Changing how you move or hold your hand or wrist can put a strain on your shoulder, leading to shoulder pain. It can be easy to overlook or ignore the pain in your shoulder when you have pain in your hand and wrist.

Care and Treatment

How is shoulder pain treated?

Treatment for shoulder pain varies based on the cause but could include:

  • Limiting physical activities that use your arms.
  • Taking medications to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Visiting a chiropractor or physical therapist to align, stretch and improve your flexibility.
  • Immobilization, such as keeping your arm in a sling, to limit movement while your shoulder heals.
  • Undergoing surgery to repair components in your shoulder or a shoulder replacement.

Your healthcare provider will let you know what type of treatment is best for your shoulder pain after a diagnosis.

What can I do at home to treat shoulder pain?

You can relieve mild shoulder pain at home by following the RICE method. RICE stands for:

  • Rest.
  • Ice.
  • Compression.
  • Elevation.

This includes:

  • Taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for pain and inflammation as directed or taking acetaminophen for pain.
  • Applying an ice pack to your shoulder. Don’t apply heat to your shoulder if you have swelling because heat can make it worse.
  • Stretching your muscles.
  • Massaging your shoulder.
  • Resting.

How do I sleep with shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain can affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try these tips to help yourself fall asleep if you have pain:

  • Sleep on your back instead of on your side.
  • Use a blanket or pillow to rest the arm of your affected shoulder to keep it level and supported.
  • Use a memory foam pillow.


Can shoulder pain be prevented?

Not all cases of shoulder pain are preventable, especially if they’re the result of an accident, injury or underlying condition. You can reduce your risk of injuring your shoulder by:

  • Wearing protective equipment.
  • Stopping an activity if you feel pain.
  • Giving your body time to rest and recover after activities.
  • Stretching, warming up and cooling down before and after playing sports or exercising.

When To Call the Doctor

When should shoulder pain be treated by a healthcare provider?

Visit a healthcare provider if you:

  • Have severe shoulder pain and swelling.
  • Experience pain for longer than a couple of days.
  • Experience worsening pain.
  • Have limited movement and function of your arm.

Visit the emergency room if you have chest pain or difficulty breathing in addition to shoulder pain.

Do I need to see a chiropractor for shoulder pain?

A chiropractor is a doctor who specializes in muscle, bone and joint pain. If you have an injury or frequent, mild shoulder pain, a chiropractor can help you feel better.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It can be difficult to get rid of shoulder pain if you don’t know what’s causing it. Your symptoms can affect your ability to move, use your arm and prevent you from getting a good night’s rest. A healthcare provider can diagnose what’s causing shoulder pain so you can feel better sooner.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/10/2023.

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