Pain In The Shoulder and Common Shoulder Problems

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

What are the Joints of the Shoulder?

The shoulder is made up of 4 joints.  These include:

  1. Glenohumeral Joint (GH) – The ball and socket where the arm attaches
  2. Acromioclavicular Joint (AC) – The joint that connects the scapula to the collar bone (clavicle)
  3. Sternoclavicular Joint (SC) – The joint that connects the clavicle to the sternum
  4. Scapulothoracic Joint – The connection between the scapula and the thoracic chest wall

These joints are connected by numerous ligaments and muscles that coordinate to allow extensive movement and function of the shoulder. 

To learn more about Shoulder Anatomy, this VIDEO may help. 

Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems can come from many causes. Image of Shoulder Anatomy

What Causes the Pain in My Shoulder?

The quick answer is that shoulder pain can have many causes.  Some injuries in the shoulder come from trauma or overuse.  Others come from wear and tear and repetitive stress. Either way, shoulder pain can severely limit your daily activity and function.  Inflammation, instability, muscle tears, arthritis and fractures are the most common causes of pain. 

Some other common shoulder issues include:

How do I Know if Pain on the Shoulder is Serious?

Several types of shoulder injuries require immediate medical care.  If you think you have one of these, you should go to the emergency department or an urgent care center.  These injuries include:

  • Separated Shoulder – This is an injury where there is trauma to the Acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) and the shoulder appears to sit lower on one side.  This is typically tested by measuring the space between the collar-bone (clavicle) and the end in the shoulder blade bone (Acromion of the Scapula). This also recognized by a difference when compared to the other side.  Pain is typically present as well
  • Dislocated Shoulder– A dislocated shoulder typically occurs with trauma with the arm outstretched. The shoulder can dislocate in multiple directions. This is due to the great range of mobility that exists in the shoulder. A shoulder dislocation may also lead to a tear in the labrum or tendons around the shoulder. Dislocations are typically very painful until they are corrected or reduced. This is typically performed by a physician. 
  • Fracture at the Shoulder – A fracture in a bone around the shoulder is also usually due to trauma. Fractures can be painful and limit functional activity tolerance.  Fractures typically require immobilization to allow healing but occasionally require a surgical repair for severe fractures.


Why Does my Shoulder Hurt at Work?

Shoulder pain at work can be due to posture or other position issues.Image of a worker with shoulder pain

The vast majority of the workforce sits at a computer desk all day.  Sitting at a desk typically causes postural issues which can cause the shoulders to round forward.  Slumping in a chair while looking at a computer screen can change the position of the shoulder.  When the shoulder blades round forward, It changes the way the shoulder sits in the socket of the joint.  This can cause excessive stress on the rotator cuff, not to mention the neck and upper back.

Can Other Body Parts Cause Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain can be a sign of other issues in the body.  Referred pain can occur in the shoulder.  Pain in the shoulder may be referred from:

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Gallbladder
  • Pancreas
  • Ovaries

Referred shoulder pain typically does not change with shoulder movement.  Some notice increased shoulder pain after eating when gallstones are present. If you notice shoulder pain that does not change with movement, it is important to see your physician to rule out medical complications. 

Shoulder Anatomy with rotator cuff muscles allow complex movement patterns of the arms.Anatomy of the Shoulder 

Should I See an Orthopedic Physician for My Shoulder Pain? 

If your shoulder hurts, there are many things in your life which become difficult.  Reaching for items, lifting, typing, you name it.. it hurts.  An ache or pain in the shoulder every once in a while is pretty typical but if the pain is constant or consistent it can be a sign of a more serious problem.  Waiting to see a doctor or go to therapy can lead to complications that make recovery take even longer.  An orthopedic physician will do a thorough evaluation and provide you an individual treatment plan.  Here is what your MD may do:

-A complete medical history 

-Physical Exam including manual testing of your shoulder

-Special tests or x-ray

-They may order other diagnostic tests like an MRI

-Provide medications

-Modification of activities and RICE Technique

-They may order physical or occupational therapy

What do I do if I Hurt my Shoulder?

If you have recently had a shoulder surgery please watch this helpful video: Dressing the Upper Body After an Injury or Surgery

If you injure your shoulder, early treatment is important.  The shoulder tends to become stiff very quickly and can develop functional limitations if the injury is not treated properly early.  That’s why the Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute offers ASAP Fracture and Injury Services.  This allows patients with injuries to be seen quickly without a trip to the Emergency Room.  (Severe Injuries and trauma should still go to the Emergency Department. 

JOI offers World-Class physicians and surgeons to address injuries.  We also offer the top therapists in 12 convenient locations to help you return to your normal daily life.  For physical therapy appointments, please call 904-858-7045.

If you would like to schedule an appointment with an Orthopedic Shoulder Specialist, please call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online or click the link below.



Ehren is a Content Writer and Physical Therapist at JOIImage caption


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