What’s Causing Your Shoulder Pain? Top Symptoms & Their Diagnosis | Central Carolina Orthopaedic Associates - Sanford & Pittsboro, NC

When you experience shoulder pain, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. The shoulder, after all, is a complex joint that connects the upper arm (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle) and includes a collection of tendons, cartilage, and soft tissue.

Whether your shoulder has sustained a sudden injury or fall or has been worn down over time, there are various possible reasons for your shoulder joint point.

Fracture or Break

The collarbone (clavicle) and the arm bone closest to the shoulder (humerus) are most commonly broken. A break or fracture can, of course, result from a sudden blow to the shoulder, but overuse or repetitive motions may also cause such an injury.


Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your entire body. Although this is great for sports like baseball and basketball, it also means the shoulder joint is most likely to become dislocated. If you rotate or pull back your arm (humerus) too hard, your arm may pop out of your shoulder socket (scapula) and become immobile with dislocation.


Unlike dislocation, shoulder separation concerns the joint connecting your shoulder blade (scapula) and your collarbone (clavicle). If you experience a hard hit to this front shoulder joint (called the acromioclavicular, or AC, joint), the ligaments around the joint may tear as your scapula and clavicle separate.

Frozen Shoulder

Just like it sounds, a frozen shoulder is stiff and difficult to move. If your arm has been imobile for a long period of time — perhaps during recovery from a surgery — abnormal bands of tissue, or adhesions, can build up and cause a sort of painful, frozen effect.


Various types of arthritis can cause pain in your shoulder joints and limit your shoulder’s range of motion.

  • Osteoarthritis: The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in your shoulder wears down and causes painful rubbing of the bones.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This form of arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks your joints.
  • Post-traumatic Arthritis: Just like it sounds, if you have experienced a sudden injury to your shoulder, you could experience joint pain and stiffness.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Your rotator cuff consists of the tendon muscles around your shoulder. These tendons allow your arm to move. However, if your shoulder is injured or is worn with overuse or age, these tendons could tear away from your bones.


Tendinitis describes the swelling and inflammation of the tendon muscles in your rotator cuff. This can happen when you overuse or injure your shoulder.


Fluid-filled sacs, or bursa, cushion your shoulder joint. These bursa can become swollen or irritated with repetitive shoulder motions. If shoulder movement is painful and your shoulder is tender to touch, you may have bursitis.

Cartilage Tear

As with Bursitis, cartilage — or the rubbery padding — surrounding the shoulder joint can tear with repetitive motions or a hard blow to the shoulder. If your shoulder cartilage tears, you may feel a catching, locking, or grinding sensation.


This happens when bone or soft tissue pinches the nerves or tendons in your shoulder. Nerve impingement is marked by pain, numbness, and burning while tendon impingement may be triggered if you reach over your head repeatedly.

Shoulder pain can indicate additional issues unrelated to the shoulder.

  • Referred Pain: There might actually be nothing wrong with your shoulder. The shoulder pain could indicate an issue with your gallbladder, liver, or another organ.
  • Heart Attack: If your shoulder pain is accompanied by difficulty breathing or chest tightness, you may be having a heart attack. In this case, please seek immediate emergency help.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, get in touch with the team at Central Carolina Orthopedic Associates so you can start the healing process today.

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