12 Common Shoulder Problems & How To Treat Them

We use our shoulders daily, so it’s not surprising that they are commonly injured. What more? Shoulder problems come in many forms and can be extremely painful and debilitating. They also have a high rate of recurrence if not appropriately treated.

In any event, it is crucial to understand the possible causes and measures you can take to treat the pain if it occurs.

Here are some of the most common shoulder problems and how to treat them:

Dislocation Of The Shoulder

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint that connects your upper arm bone (humerus) with your shoulder blade (scapula). A shoulder dislocation is when your upper arm bone (humerus) pops out of its socket.

Treatment Options: The injury can be treated by a doctor or other licensed professional who usually puts the head of the humerus back into its socket and then may keep it there with a sling or cast while the ligaments heal. They’ll likely prescribe painkillers for the patient and may also recommend physical therapy to regain strength in your rotator cuff muscles. However, surgery may be necessary if an X-ray shows any signs of damage to surrounding tissues or bones.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

It occurs when the rotator cuff tendons become irritated and inflamed because they rub against the top outer head of the shoulder blade, known as the acronium, as they move over the top of the shoulder joint. It is characterized by pain around the top and outer parts of the shoulders, which increases significantly when you attempt to lift your hand above your head.

It’s worth mentioning because it can cause pain and stiffness in your shoulder, affecting your ability to play sports or perform everyday activities like reaching overhead or putting on a shirt.

In most cases, it won’t heal on its own. If left untreated, it may deteriorate to inflamed tendons (tendinitis), bursa (bursitis), or both.

Treatment Options: Physical therapy exercises are the standard line of intervention. Physicians may also recommend rest, immobilization (splint), or anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce inflammation around the joint area.

Rotator Cuff Tear

This occurs when the rotator cuff gets injured. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround and stabilize your shoulders and allow you to lift your arm.

It can happen from repetitive use or a single event, like a fall or car accident. And common symptoms include pain around the shoulders when you try to lift things or your arm. Also, the movement of the joint may produce a crackling sound.

Treatment Options: Physical therapy is often recommended for rotator cuff tears and anti-inflammatory medications. Surgery may be required if other treatments aren’t effective.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

A condition that causes stiffness in your shoulder joint, this is often caused by injury or overuse but sometimes appears for no apparent reason. It’s also known as adhesive capsulitis because it causes scar tissue to form around your joint capsule, which causes the joint to “freeze.” This makes it hard to move your arm around because everything is stuck together! Other signs include pain on the affected part.

Treatment Options: Painkillers, physical therapy, surgery to free up the joint capsule are some approaches to managing a frozen shoulder.


Tendinitis is the medical term for the inflammation of a tendon. In the case of the shoulder, it is the tendons of the rotator cuff. It often occurs gradually over time and can also be caused suddenly by trauma.

Treatment Options: Physical therapy, cold/heat therapy, pain relievers, and injecting steroids into the joints are all management options for tendinitis in the shoulders.


Bursitis is inflammation around one of the bursae (tiny fluid-filled sacs) that cushion your joints. Repetitive movements and single traumatic events like a fall cause bursitis of the shoulders. The prominent symptom is pain which becomes intense with shoulder movements.

Treatment Options: It may include one or a combination of the following – physical therapy,immobilization using splints, removing the fluid of the bursa, medication with antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Surgery is not often required.


A fracture is a broken bone. A fracture can occur in any bone, including any bones that form the shoulders. Fractures are usually caused by high-energy trauma such as a motor vehicle accident or fall. They can also occur due to less forceful causes, such as osteoporosis which makes bones weak and more likely to fracture due to simple pressure.

Signs and symptoms of a fractured bone include pain, bruising, swelling, and deformity around the affected area.

Treatment Options: If you have a fracture, you will probably need surgery to put the pieces back together again.

Shoulder Separation

A shoulder separation is caused when the ligament that holds your collarbone (clavicle) to the top of your shoulder blade (acromion) is torn or stretched beyond its capacity.

Notable signs of a shoulder separation are pain and a visible bump at the top of the shoulder.

Treatment Options: It includes physical therapy, immobilization with a sling, painkillers, or using ice packs.

Torn Shoulder Labrum Cartilage

Your labrum is a ring of cartilage around your shoulder socket that helps stabilize your shoulder joint by reducing friction between bones during movement. A labral tear can occur from overuse or an injury, such as a fall onto an outstretched hand or landing on an outstretched arm during sports activities.

An individual with a shoulder labral tear may experience the following symptoms: pain, especially when lifting the arm overhead, loss of shoulder strength, “sticking” of the shoulder joint, impaired motion, and popping/grinding sounds in the shoulder joint may be heard.

Treatment Options: Minor tears may heal on their own within six months with rest and physical therapy. If it’s more serious, you’ll need surgery to repair it.

Bone Spurs (Osteophytes)

A bone spur is a common cause of shoulder pain in older people. By definition, bone spurs are abnormal growths of bone on top of normal bone. They typically develop in response to trauma or degenerative processes.

Bone spurs can cause pain, swelling, and tenderness in your shoulder. They also affect the range of motion of your shoulder joints. It’s not uncommon to experience tingling or numbness, which can lead to torn tendons or ligaments. Keep in mind not all bone spurs would cause pain.

Treatment Options: Rest, physical therapy, cold compresses, anti-inflammatory painkillers, and steroid injections into the joint. In some cases, patients would require surgery.

Sprains And Strains

Sprains are overstretched or torn ligaments, while a strain is an overstretched or torn muscle fiber or tendon. Sprains and strains can happen in any part of your body, including the shoulders.

Treatment Option: In minor cases, rest and cold therapy will help ease pain and swelling. Physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, immobilization, and corticosteroid injections are other means of management. In more severe cases, surgery may be required for repair.


Arthritis can cause shoulder pain, stiffness, and weakness.

Among all the types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is by far the most common. And usually, the pain associated with osteoarthritis gets worse over time. It can compromise your ability to do even simple tasks.

Arthritis is most often caused by wear and tear on the joint due to aging or overuse. It may also be caused by injury or by inflammation in the joint.

In addition to pain, and some signs mentioned above, someone with arthritis affecting the shoulder joints will notice popping, clicking, and grinding sounds in the joint.

Treatment Options: Rest, physical therapy, cold compresses, anti-inflammatory painkillers, and steroid injections into the joint are management options.


There you have it: 12 common shoulder problems and how to treat them. You’ll find that many of the treatment strategies mentioned throughout this guide are based on sound health concepts. For example, exercise, rest, icing the shoulder when needed, and seeing a qualified professional who can assess the injury properly.

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