Shoulder pain: 7 possible causes

Shoulder pain: 7 possible causes
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Pain in one or both shoulders can manifest either during movement of the arm or when the shoulder becomes blocked and radiates pain throughout the neck and back. So what are the causes of this type of pain? And at what stage should you consult a specialist?

Shoulder pain: 7 possible causes

There are at least 7 possible causes for pain affecting the shoulders.


Bursitis is an inflammation or irritation of the bursae, small fluid filled sacs around the joints, between the tendons and the bone. They contain synovial fluid which helps reduce friction in the joints, helping with movement of the tendons and muscles. We find bursea in the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, ankles, and in the Achilles tendon, although the shoulder is the joint most commonly affected by bursitis. Bursitis can be acute or chronic and can be caused by an injury, strain (from repetitive movements, for example), inflammatory arthritis or an infection.


With or without calcium deposits, tendonitis affects the tendons in a joint. Along with bursitis, it is the most common reason that specialists are consulted about shoulder pain. Tendonitis, like bursitis, can be caused by repetitive movements which can wear down tendons and rupture the rotator cuff, the group of muscles and tendons that surround the head of the humerus.  This wear and tear is caused by abnormal friction of the rotator cuff against a part of the shoulder blade, which is called “shoulder impingement syndrome”Tendonitis and bursitis generally disappear within 3 to 4 weeks.

A trauma

A trauma to the shoulder can take the form of:

  • a fracture
  • a subluxion, when the shoulder partially dislocates.
  • a dislocation, when the bone comes completely out of the joint.
  • a dislocation accompanied by a fracture
  • a torn tendon


Arthritis is an inflammatory disease which affects one or several joints, possibly wearing them down completely. To treat arthritis, your doctor will generally prescribe anti-inflammatories as well as 2 to 3 cortisol injections per year in order to prevent deterioration of healthy tissue.


Osteoarthritis is a wearing down of the cartilage that covers the extremities of the bones in the joints. This cartilage wear is mainly due to ageing. The only really effective treatment is replacement surgery.

Capsulitis (frozen shoulder)

Capsulitis is caused by narrowing of the shoulder capsule, the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder, following inflammation. Generally, the affected person can no longer raise their arm. This inflammation is fairly frequent in women over 30 years of age, often due to repetitive movements. Capsulitis can last 12 to 18 months and heals spontaneously or with the help of physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy treats pain and discomfort resulting from injuries and diseases affecting the muscles, joints and bones, as well as the neurological, respiratory, circulatory and cardiac systems.

Bone cancer or lung cancer

One of the symptoms of lung cancer is pain that radiates down the shoulder.

In the case of bone cancer, one of the main symptoms is persistent bone pain due to inflammation.

Shoulder pain: when to consult a specialist?

As well as the aforementioned problems, these are the cases in which you should consult a doctor:

  • if you have had an accident which led to pain in your shoulder, and you can’t move it like you could before.
  • you haven’t done anything that could explain your shoulder pain, which is constant and often prevents you from sleeping.
  • your shoulder pain gets worse the minute you move your arm.

You should probably get an x-ray or a scan in order to get a more precise diagnosis and to rule out certain causes such as arthritis, osteoarthritis or cancer.


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