Smiling senior woman in a gym sitting down and working out while lifting both of her armsDepending upon the issue, shoulder pain can range from a chronic dull ache, all the way to intense sharp pain, often associated with certain movements. Whether your pain is chronically achy or sometimes very intense, shoulder pain can make it very difficult to perform the most basic tasks, including reaching for an item, getting dressed, or lifting a bag of groceries. If you are having bothersome shoulder pain, it’s important to seek medical treatment to determine the nature of the issue to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder joint is often referred to as a ball and socket joint. This label describes how the shoulder joint is formed from the bony knob of the upper arm bone (humerus) nestled within the shoulder blade (scapula).  This formation is fairly loose, thus giving the shoulder a wide range of motion, however, it also makes the joint more susceptible to injury. The shoulder joint is also attached to the clavicle bones that radiate out from both sides of the breastbone by way of a series of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Some of these muscles and tendons comprise the rotator cuff, which assists in providing support and a wide range of motion to the shoulder. Other important shoulder components include the bursa, which are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion and protect the rotator cuff, and the labrum, which is a cuff of cartilage shaped into the form of a cup. The labrum is where the bony knob of the humerus bone resides within the shoulder blade.

Types of Pain

Depending upon the nature of the injury, shoulder pain may come on gradually and increase over time. An achy pain that occurs with certain movements such as reaching above the head is a common occurrence with shoulder pain. Some people also report grinding or popping noises emanating from the shoulder area. Still, others report an increase in pain during sleep, to the point where they cannot rest comfortably. If left untreated, it is not uncommon for shoulder pain to cause enough pain and stiffness, as well as decreased mobility, to the point where an individual cannot lift their arm above their head.

What’s Causing the Pain?

Sometimes a bout of shoulder pain may occur from simple overuse. With rest, some NSAIDs, and an ice pack, an individual experiencing this type of shoulder pain will recover fairly quickly. Other types of shoulder pain, especially chronic shoulder pain may occur from arthritis in the shoulder. Still, others may experience sudden pain from a blunt force shoulder injury or the pain may come on more gradually over a period of time. Especially with more intense pain, it’s important to receive a proper diagnosis to determine if the pain is from a rotator cuff tear or a case of tendonitis ( tendon inflammation), or a bout of bursitis (inflammation of the bursa sacs).


With simple shoulder pain from overuse, the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method of treatment may be all an individual requires to resolve their issue. Patients who experience chronic pain from arthritis may benefit from NSAIDs, hot compresses, massage or acupuncture, strengthening of key muscles to provide proper support of the shoulder, as well as supplements such as vitamin D, ginger, and turmeric, which can reduce pain and inflammation. Even if an individual is experiencing an injury such as a torn rotator cuff, bursitis, or tendonitis, it doesn’t necessarily mean surgery is their only option.

Physical therapy treatments can assist all types of individuals experiencing shoulder pain. If a person is physically active but continues to experience bouts of shoulder pain, it could be that they have shoulder weakness which can benefit from the strengthening of key muscles. For more specific injuries such as tendonitis, bursitis, or a rotator cuff injury, physical therapists can help reduce pain with massage and acupressure, followed by gentle stretching exercises designed to gradually increase the range of motion. As a patient improves, a physical therapist can assign key exercises designed to strengthen and support key muscle groups surrounding the shoulder. If a patient does require surgery, PTs can help with post-operative care by gently stretching muscles, reducing pain, increasing range of motion, and eventually strengthening the shoulder area.


If your shoulder pain is limiting your activities and making your life uncomfortable, Cawley PT and Rehab can help. Please contact us at 570-208-2787 or email us at