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