The Human Shoulder: Why It’s Painful and How to Deal With It

Back pain in man
  • The human shoulder is a complex system composed of three bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Common causes of shoulder pain include rotator cuff injury, frozen shoulder, tendinitis, arthritis, and bursitis.
  • Treatment for these conditions may involve physical therapy, medications, stretching exercises, injections, or surgical intervention.
  • Rest and ice can be combined with physical therapy and medication to manage shoulder pain effectively.
  • Shoulder pain should not be ignored; medical attention should be sought to prevent further injury.

Shoulder pain can be quite debilitating, preventing sufferers from doing everyday activities such as reaching for objects, lifting weights, or even holding a phone. Shoulder pain may come on slowly or develop quickly after an injury, and it can be challenging to pinpoint the cause. Here’s what you need to know about the human shoulder and how to deal with any associated pain.

The Human Shoulder

One of the most essential parts of the body, the human shoulder, is a complex and intricate system comprising several components. The shoulder comprises the clavicle, scapula, humerus, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All these elements work together to provide the shoulder with flexibility, strength, and range of motion.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

There are a variety of reasons behind shoulder pain. Here are some of the most common:

Rotator Cuff Injury

Your rotator cuff is around the shoulder joint, keeping the arm bone (humerus) in place. Rotator cuff injuries can occur from excessive overhead motion, such as painting a ceiling or throwing a ball repeatedly. They may also arise due to traumatic events such as falling heavily on the arm or dislocating your shoulder.

Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include pain during overhead activities, difficulty sleeping at night, and weakness in the affected arm. The pain can be managed through physical therapy, ice packs, heat therapy, and pain medications. In extreme cases, surgical intervention may be necessary.

Shoulder pain from muscle

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition that causes stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. It can occur after a period of immobilization or, in some cases, spontaneously with no apparent cause.

Symptoms may include difficulty raising your arm above your head, lifting or reaching pain, and decreased range of motion. Treatment for a frozen shoulder typically involves physical therapy, stretching, pain medications, and in some cases, surgery.


Tendons are strong, thick cords that help attach muscles to your bones. Tendinitis is simply the inflammation of these tendons. It can be caused by repetitive or sudden movements that stress the tendon. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, stiffness around the shoulder joint, and in some cases, a popping or cracking sound. Treatment options typically include rest, ice, pain medications, physical therapy, and in some instances, surgery.


Shoulder arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes the cartilage in the shoulder joint to wear away. This condition can lead to inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Symptoms typically begin gradually and worsen over time. Treatment options may include pain medications, physical therapy, joint injections, and shoulder replacement surgery.


Bursitis is the inflammation of your bursae, tiny sacs filled with fluid between tendons and bones. Bursitis can occur in the shoulder, often due to repetitive motions that stress the bursae. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, and stiffness around the shoulder joint. Treatment options typically involve rest, ice, pain medications, physical therapy, and steroid injections.

Dealing With Shoulder Pain

Thankfully, there are various ways you can manage shoulder pain. Here are some of them:

Medication on table


One of the best ways to alleviate shoulder pain fast is to take over-the-counter or prescription medication. Your doctor may recommend an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or naproxen, a muscle relaxant, or a corticosteroid injection.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help restore motion and strength in the shoulder joint while reducing pain. It typically involves stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and ice/heat treatments.


In extreme cases of shoulder pain due to trauma or degenerative conditions such as arthritis, surgery may be necessary. Depending on the cause of your shoulder pain and overall health status, surgery may involve repairing torn tissues, replacing worn joint surfaces with artificial components (shoulder replacement), or completely removing the damaged muscle. Consult your local shoulder doctor for this. They can check whether surgery is necessary.

No matter the cause of your shoulder pain, seeking medical attention is important if the pain persists or worsens over time. Your doctor can help determine which treatment plan is right for you and advise on ways to prevent further injury. You can continue living an active life, free from shoulder pain, with proper care.

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