8 Causes of Shoulder Pain

by Chris Regal Editor

Shoulder pain can be mild or debilitating. It can be caused by trauma, injury or a long-term degenerative condition. Learn more about what could be causing the pain in your shoulder.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition defined by the reduction of the amount of cartilage in a joint. Overuse, injury, genetics, or simple wear and tear on the joint can cause the reduction of the cushioning in a joint, such as the shoulder. Osteoarthritis symptoms include pain, stiffness and inflammation within the joint.

Bone spurs

Bony spurs or extra bone may form around the joint. The ligaments and muscles around the joint become weaker and stiffer.


The fluid-filled sac that lies between the tendons and the skin, known as the bursa, can become inflamed. This condition is known as bursitis, and can be caused by genetic factors, osteoarthritis, gout, overuse or trauma. It is characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth or redness around the joint.

Bone break

A bone break happens from trauma, most commonly. If there is fear for a broken bone, the patient should see a medical professional immediately for proper diagnosis and evaluation.

Frozen shoulder

This occurs when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments inside the shoulder become stiff, making movement difficult and painful.

Tendon problems

Overuse or injury of nearby tendons, such as the bicep muscles of your arms, can cause pain in the shoulder. Tendinitis could also be an issue – it is the inflammation, irritation, and swelling of a tendon, which is the fibrous structure that joins muscle to bone. In many cases, tendinosis (tendon degeneration) is also present. Tendonitis can be the result of injury, overuse or aging.


Dislocations are joint injuries that force the ends of your bones out of position. The cause is often a fall or a blow, sometimes from playing a contact sport. When a dislocation occurs, you can't move the joint. You can dislocate your ankles, knees, shoulders, hips and elbows. You can also dislocate your finger and toe joints. Dislocated joints often are swollen, very painful and visibly out of place.

Pain outside the shoulder

Sometimes, shoulder pain may be due to a problem in another area of the body, such as the neck or lungs. This is called "referred pain." People with this type of pain usually do not have pain when moving the shoulder.

Chris Regal
Meet Our Writer
Chris Regal

Christopher Regal is a former Web Producer for a variety of conditions on HealthCentral.com, including osteoarthritis, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, Migraine, and prostate health. He edited, wrote, and managed writers for the website. He joined HealthCentral in November 2009 after time spent working for a political news organization. Chris is a graduate of the Catholic University of America and is a native of Albany, New York.