Shoulder pain: Causes, symptoms and pain relief

Over 600 thousand people visit their GP with shoulder pain every year¹

The shoulder is a more complex section of the body than it first appears. It’s where two joints – the shoulder joint and acromioclavicular joint, meet three bones - the collar bone, shoulder blade and upper arm bone. And it’s surrounded by a network of muscles and strong tendons. A lot of different parts mean there is a lot that can go wrong.

Shoulder Pain Causes

Although shoulders can be damaged in many ways, compared with other joints e.g. the knee, shoulder pain is relatively minor. Pain usually affects just a small part of the join and lasts only for a short time. Some key causes of shoulder pain are:

Long-term conditions – If someone is affected by an existing condition like arthritis or polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition that causes stiffness and pain in muscles – then it’s likely these will also affect their shoulder. Rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, is known for causing pain and swelling in the shoulder. And all types of arthritis can damage bones and cartilage.

Infection and injury – Sometimes the shoulder can become red, hot, inflamed and very painful as a natural reaction to an infection or injury in the near vicinity.

Muscle and tendon damage – Pulling a muscle in the shoulder area, perhaps as the result of exercise or overstretching, will cause pain.

Muscle tension between the neck and shoulder – This is linked to posture around the upper back and neck and there’s a high correlation between shoulder problems and poor posture. It’s a common complaint for those that spend long periods sitting at a desk and using a computer at work. There’s

Bursa inflammation – Swelling in the fluid-filled sac that usually cushions bones, tendons and muscles will cause intense pain.

Problems in the neck – Sometimes problems in the neck can make the shoulder blade or upper arm painful. It’s an issue known as referred or radiated pain. Pain in the shoulder combined with a tingling sensation in the hand or arm indicates a problem in the neck. 

Shoulder pain exercise

When dealing with any kind of pain, medical professionals advise the importance of staying active. With shoulder pain, keeping a good balance between rest and activity will prevent the shoulder from stiffening up.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid doing activity that hurts or strains the shoulder to the point of discomfort e.g. using heavy gym equipment. What follows are two very gentle exercises to help shoulder pain. Only do them if your level of pain allows.

  • Shoulder flexion – Stand up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Clasp both hands in front of your body and raise them gently over your head, or as far as you can.
  • Finger climb – Stand up straight facing a wall about 10cm away. Place the hand of the affected arm onto the wall in front of you, so that the hand and most of the forearm is touching it. Use your fingers to ‘climb’ up the wall. Let your fingers go as high as they can, straightening your arm behind them, before returning to the starting position. Repeat this as you feel necessary. 

Shoulder pain treatment

Acute shoulder pain usually settles down quickly with the right treatment and many of these treatments can be applied at home.

  • Ice / Heat – When shoulder pain starts, try applying ice or a hot water bottle a few times a day for relief.
  • Painkillers – Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen are a proven way to reduce swelling and pain in the joint.
  • Working on your posture – Staying upright and addressing any slouching can make a positive difference to shoulder pain.

Chronic shoulder pain can be more difficult to treat because there are other issues. Contact your GP who will be advise you on some of the more serious treatments below.

  • Physiotherapy – A physiotherapist will be able to give you tailored exercises and stretching techniques to increase movement and reduce your pain.
  • Occupational therapy – An occupational therapist will be able to give advice on how to make lasting changes to the way you do things, which will reduce the strain on your shoulder.
  • Steroid injections – Steroids given in the form of injections with a local anaesthetic will reduce inflammation and help ease pain quickly, although this is a short-term solution.
  • Surgery – Most shoulder pain improves without surgery, but in very severe cases e.g. a shoulder replacement, it has positive effects.
  • BioWaveGO’s 100% drug-free pain blocking technology stops pain at the nerve
  • Place the non-invasive electrodes around the part of your shoulder that is most painful
  • Start your device – a 30-minute treatment is sufficient
  • One session can provide pain relief for up to eight hours 
  • BioWave has an immediate effect, but there is also a cumulative effect on the nerve signals so prolonged used might have additional benefits
Sources
  1. Shoulder pain, Dr. Jacqueline Payne:  https://patient.info/doctor/shoulder-pain-pro