There are three bones that make up your shoulder: the collar bone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus), which are controlled by a number of associated muscles and ligaments. Shoulder pain can be caused by injury or impairment to any of these bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons. There are also four major tendons, called the rotator cuff tendons. The shoulder joint (or glenohumeral joint) allows for a wide range of movement as it is a ball-and-socket, making it exceptionally mobile.
This page is not intended to replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you and is intended for informational purposes only.
A rotator cuff disorder may cause pain when you move your arm above your head or away from your body. It is associated with pain on the front and side of your shoulder or discomfort at night. You may also experience a snapping or clicking noise when you move your shoulder.
The causes of shoulder instability
People with suspected shoulder instability often describe feeling as though the ball of the shoulder has become disjointed. They also describe feelings of tingling, weakness or numbness in the shoulder.
Dislocated shoulders explained
With a dislocated shoulder, symptoms can include severe pain, a muscle spasm and limited movement. You may notice that the arm looks dislocated.
What is a frozen shoulder?
Two symptoms of a frozen shoulder include pain and persistent stiffness. Mild symptoms have been described as a shoulder ache causing pain when reaching for something. Severe symptoms might be where movement of the shoulder is significantly limited.
There are many causes of shoulder pain. It is often brought on by sudden, high-stress movements in sports, or repeat movements. Rowing is an example of a sport that can cause shoulder pain. Shoulder tendons may also tear, having worn down due to aging and poor circulation in the tendons.
There are a number of reasons why you might be experiencing shoulder pain, including:
Adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder is when a flexible tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint (called a capsule) becomes inflamed and restricts the range of movement in your shoulder.
Rotator cuffs can suffer from tears. Tendonitis and bursitis occur when the inflammation of tendons or the fluid-filled bursa sacs happens between the tendons and bones, due to repetitive overuse.
Although the shoulder joint is very moveable, shoulder instability can occur when the ball part of the shoulder joint does not move correctly in the socket. This can range from a slipping to a full dislocation.
The acromioclavicular joint is at the top of the shoulder and the ligaments can suffer from tearing or stretching.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that can affect the shoulder joints.
Broken or fractured bones can occur if an injury breaks or fractures the humerus or collarbone.
Usually, a MRI or CT scan will be used to diagnose the problem within the shoulder but it could require an arthroscopy procedure to treat the problem. Arthroscopy, also called keyhole surgery, is a procedure that has greatly reduced inpatient recovery times.
After making up to four small incisions around the affected joint, surgeons will insert a small arthroscope attached to a video camera into one of the cuts to visually examine the area. They are then able to place surgical instruments through the other to treat any problems inside the shoulder.
The operation usually takes 40 minutes, in most cases under a general anaesthetic.