Medical Blog

Shoulder Pain: Causes and Treatments

by md therapeutics on May 20, 2014


The shoulder is a complex set of bones and joints that come together to create the widest range of motion in the body. As such, a complex range of motion comes with a complex set of risks. Shoulder, back, and neck issues go hand-in-hand since they are all connected.  Shoulder pain can be attributed to any one of the following factors:

  • Tendon inflammation or tear, due to exertion or overuse
  • Abnormality in bones or joints
  • Arthritis
  • Poor posture
  • Trauma by fracture or dislocation
  • Muscle strain due to exertion or overuse
  • Degenerative disease
  • Pinched nerves
  • Tumours (in rare cases)


If the problem is caused by old or minor injury or inflammation, treatments will be the same regardless of the specific problem. Minor injuries generally heal themselves.  As such, resting the shoulder, taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug and applying cold treatments to the injury are a few suggestions for minimizing pain and promoting healing.

Seek medical attention if the pain is severe. You will have to seek medical attention if you hear bones popping or grating, or if your condition is not improving. Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, and/or muscle relaxants if you are experiencing muscle spasms. For arthritis, a physician may administer local corticosteroid injections. Mild exercise of the shoulder and back may be helpful. There is also evidence to suggest that antidepressants are effective in combating pain as stress is a possible aggravating factor.

For injuries which involve the spine, surgery may be a necessary last resort. Non-surgical methods will often be tried first because surgery is risky, invasive, and debilitating. At times, injuries to the spine are associated with the shoulder and neck. The only way to determine the true cause and seriousness of the condition is by undergoing a series of diagnostic tests, such as X-ray, MRI, Ultrasound, Anthrogram, and CT scan. It is difficult to put an end to shoulder pain once it begins. However, there are some treatment options one can try at home.

Self-treatment options

  • Stretch. Stretching those shoulder blades and forcing them down and back slowly helps maintain the natural position of the shoulders.
  • Exercise. Keeping the back muscles in between the shoulder blades (called Rhomboids) strong will help to maintain the correct posture and keep the shoulder blades in their normal position. Rowing exercises are perfect for this.
  • Place your hand behind your back while applying ice to the rotator cuff. An alternative might be to sit or lie in a supported position against an ice pack. Position the ice pack so that it targets the area of tension. Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory. Some experts have also suggested alternating ice with heat therapy.
  • Rest the shoulder. Give it a break by resting the elbows in a natural position at your side, or on an armrest.  
  • Use a supportive pillow. Many people prefer to sleep on their sides, and if a pillow is too thin, too much pressure goes on the shoulder, resulting in pain or discomfort. Ensure that you have a thick and supportive pillow.

When home remedies are not useful, a patient will need to seek professional medical intervention as long-term pain issues (lasting several months) can often indicate a more serious problem.


Kelli Hastings, B.A.,
Health and Safety Specialist