Why Does My Shoulder Hurt?

Shoulder pain can come from a number of sources. The two main causes of shoulder pain include:

  • Injury to muscles and/or tendons from prolonged overuse — for example, performing a repetitive activity like painting for too long.
  • Muscles and/or tendons pinched between bones or ligaments, also known as impingement. This may happen during activities with “power strokes” like tennis, swimming, or throwing a ball.

Both types of injury can cause a steady ache in the shoulder with bursts of sharper pain in certain positions. A third possible cause of shoulder pain is a heart attack — pain can appear throughout the upper torso, arms, neck, and face. Shoulder pain can also be a seasonal issue — breathing super-cold air during the winter can send pain into your chest and shoulders.

If you don’t remember what activity kicked off your shoulder problem, you and/or your doctor may have a hard time figuring out a treatment plan! Try these quick tests to help determine what type of injury you have:

  1. Hold your arm out and twist it downward as if you were pouring out a bottle. With your arm twisted downward, slowly raise your arm. If this causes pain, you may have tendinitis!
  2. Grab the elbow on the side where you have shoulder pain (if your right shoulder hurts, then grab your right elbow) and pull it across your body. If this causes pain, you may have an impingement.

Severe shoulder pain should be treated by a medical professional. Before you get to the doctor’s office, you can try these tricks to help relieve the pain:

  • Stop the activity that is causing pain! There’s no sense in continuing to suffer.
  • Heat can help ease the pain, but won’t cure it. A heating pad can help keep you from seeing stars while you’re waiting to see the doctor — but your shoulder will still hurt when it cools back down.
  • Try gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises to help other muscles in the area. Strengthening all your muscles can help make your shoulder muscles stronger.