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Shoulder pain: A Closer Look

Because the shoulder is a complex ball and socket joint, there are several reasons as to why you could have shoulder pain.

Most shoulder problems fall into four major categories:

  • Tendon inflammation (bursitis or tendinitis) or tendon tear
  • Instability
  • Arthritis
  • Fracture (broken bone)

Other much less common causes of shoulder pain are tumors, infection, and nerve-related problems.



There are many tissues in the shoulder, such as tendons or bursae that may become inflamed and lead to discomfort. Many daily activities, such as reaching for a cup of coffee or combing your hair, may become difficult.

The most commonly affected tendons in the shoulder are the four rotator cuff tendons and one of the biceps tendons. The rotator cuff is made up of four small muscles and their tendons that cover the head of your upper arm bone and keep it in the shoulder socket. Click here for more information regarding rotator cuff tendonitis.


Tendon Tears

Tearing of tendons may result from acute injury or degenerative changes in the tendons due to advancing age or long-term overuse. These tears may be partial or may be full thickness. In most cases of complete tears, the tendon is pulled away from its attachment to the bone. Rotator cuff and biceps tendon injuries are among the most common of these injuries.  Click here for more information regarding rotator cuff tears.



Shoulder instability occurs when the head of the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket. This can happen as a result of a sudden injury or from overuse.

Once the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the shoulder become loose or torn, dislocations can occur repeatedly. Repeated episodes of subluxations (partial dislocation) or dislocations lead to an increased risk of developing arthritis in the joint. Click here for more information regarding shoulder instability.



Osteoarthritis, may be related to an injury or may develop with advancing age. Other types of arthritis may be related to infection, or an inflammation of the joint lining. The most common osteoarthritis in the shoulder is acromioclavicular arthritis (the collar bone area) and glenohumeral arthritis (the ball and socket area in the shoulder). Click here for more information regarding arthritis in the shoulder.



A broken bone, or fracture in the shoulder may involve the clavicle (collarbone), humerus (upper arm bone), or scapula (shoulder blade).

Shoulder fractures in older patients are often the result of a fall, either onto an outstretched hand or directly onto the shoulder. In younger patients, shoulder fractures are often caused by a high energy injury, such as a motor vehicle accident or contact sports injury. Fractures typically cause severe pain, swelling, and bruising or discoloration. Click here for more information regarding humerus fractures.  Click here for more information regarding clavicle fractures.


For more information regarding the shoulder:

Anatomy of the shoulder

common shoulder conditions


For more specific information, please check with your provider.

Make an appointment here to discuss your specific problem further.


Source and for more information: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)


Information on general shoulder pain available in Spanish:

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