top of page
  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

woman with shoulder pain grabbing painful shoulder

Shoulder pain can be a real nuisance, making it challenging to perform everyday tasks and enjoy your favorite activities. Whether you're experiencing a dull ache, sharp pain, or limited range of motion, understanding the underlying causes of shoulder pain is crucial for effective treatment. In this blog post, we will explore the various causes of shoulder pain, shedding light on the mystery behind your discomfort. So, let's dive in and uncover the possible culprits behind your shoulder woes.

shoulder anatomy including muscles and joints

Shoulder Anatomy

Understanding the anatomy of your shoulder can help shed light on the common causes of shoulder pain. The shoulder is a complex joint consisting of several important structures that work together to provide a wide range of motion and stability.

At the center of the shoulder is the glenohumeral joint, where the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) connects to the glenoid cavity of the scapula (shoulder blade). This joint allows for the majority of shoulder movement and is held in place by a group of ligaments that provide stability.

Surrounding the glenohumeral joint is a network of muscles known as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff muscles, including the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, work together to stabilize the shoulder joint and facilitate smooth movement.

Above the glenohumeral joint lies the acromioclavicular joint, where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the acromion process of the scapula. This joint helps with overhead movements and is reinforced by ligaments.

Beneath the acromioclavicular joint is the subacromial space, which contains the rotator cuff tendons and the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between the tendons and bones.

The shoulder is further supported by various muscles and tendons, including the deltoid, pectoralis major, biceps brachii, and trapezius. These muscles work together to allow for a wide range of movements, such as lifting, reaching, and throwing.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

1. Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Overuse, repetitive movements, or traumatic injuries can lead to strains, tears, or inflammation in the rotator cuff. These injuries are often characterized by pain, weakness, and difficulty lifting or reaching.

2. Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become irritated or inflamed, usually due to repetitive overhead movements or poor shoulder mechanics. This condition can cause pain, especially when raising the arm or reaching behind the back.

3. Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It typically progresses through three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is unknown, but it can occur following a period of immobilization, injury, or certain medical conditions.

4. Shoulder Arthritis

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the shoulder. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other types of arthritis can cause shoulder pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Arthritis-related shoulder pain often worsens with activity and may be accompanied by swelling.

5. Bursitis

Bursitis refers to the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the shoulder joint. Repetitive motions, direct trauma, or underlying conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can lead to bursitis. This condition may cause localized pain, tenderness, and swelling.

6. Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability occurs when the structures that hold the shoulder joint in place become loose or damaged. It can result from a traumatic injury, repetitive strain, or underlying connective tissue disorders. It can also be caused by muscle imbalances or weakness in the supporting muscles around the shoulder and scapula. Shoulder instability may cause a sensation of the shoulder slipping out of place or feeling unstable during certain movements.

When to Seek Help

If you're experiencing persistent or worsening shoulder pain, it's important to seek professional help. A qualified healthcare provider, such as a physical therapist, can evaluate your condition, determine the underlying cause, and develop an individualized treatment plan to address your specific needs.

Treatment Options

Treatment for shoulder pain will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Physical therapy is often a primary treatment approach, focusing on exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, improve mobility, and correct any imbalances or movement patterns. Modalities such as dry needling, cupping, taping, and manual therapy techniques may also be used to reduce pain and promote healing.

Understanding the various causes of shoulder pain can provide valuable insights into your condition and help guide you toward the right treatment path. If you're experiencing shoulder pain that's interfering with your daily life, don't ignore it. Reach out to our team at Nashville Physical Therapy & Performance to schedule an evaluation. We're here to help you get back to a pain-free, functional shoulder, so you can enjoy life to the fullest.


- Kuhn, J. E. (2013). Exercise in the treatment of rotator cuff impingement: A systematic review and a synthesized evidence-based rehabilitation protocol. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 22(11), 149-159.

- Neviaser, A. S., & Neviaser, R. J. (2010). Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 18(9), 539-549.

- Kelley, M. J., et al. (2013). Frozen shoulder: Evidence and a proposed model guiding rehabilitation. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 43(5), 352-361.

- Hannafin, J. A., et al. (2014). Treatment of the young, active patient with symptomatic shoulder impingement. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 23(10), e97-e108.

- Simons, S. M., & Brislin, K. J. (2010). Shoulder pain: Overuse injuries. FP essentials, 381, 25-31.

8 views0 comments


bottom of page