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5 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

5 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain
5 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

5 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is frequently affected by either acute traumatic injuries or chronic overuse injuries. Shoulder pain affects 18-26% of adults at any point in time and significantly limits occupational, recreational, and athletic activities. 1

5 common causes of shoulder pain include:

Rotator Cuff

Nearly 2 million Americans suffer from rotator cuff problems every year.2 The rotator cuff consists of a group of tendons and muscles that surround and stabilize the shoulder joint. These tendons allow a wide range of movement of the shoulder joint across multiple planes. Irritation or injury to these tendons can result in rotator cuff pain.


Shoulder instability typically happens as a result of a sudden injury like a fall or accident. It occurs when the head of the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket. Once a shoulder has dislocated, it is vulnerable to repeat episodes. When the shoulder is loose and slips out of place repeatedly, it is called chronic shoulder instability.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a condition in which you experience pain and stiffness in your shoulder. The symptoms appear slowly – the freezing stage, worsen to a peak - the frozen stage, and usually take one to three years to resolve on their own – the thawing stage.


Impingement is caused by excessive rubbing of the shoulder muscles against the top part of the shoulder blade. Usually seen in young and middle-aged patients, who engage in physical activities that require repeated overhead arm movements. In some circumstances, a partial tear of the rotator cuff may cause impingement pain. Medical care should be sought immediately for inflammation in the shoulder because it could eventually lead to a more serious injury.


Arthritis is inflammation in the joint. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) wears away the smooth cartilage in the joint over time causing your bones to rub against each other. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder and impacts the synovium that lubricates the joint so it can move easier. The proportion of cartilage damage and synovial inflammation varies with the type and stage of arthritis. Usually the pain early on is due to inflammation. In the later stages, when the cartilage is worn away, most of the pain comes from the mechanical friction of raw bones rubbing on each other.

Shoulder pain is common among people of all ages. The underlying reason for your shoulder pain can vary significantly from rotator cuff issues to arthritis. It is important to have your shoulder pain evaluated rather than pushing through the pain. Waiting to seek treatment can lead to further injury.

If you are suffering from shoulder pain, make an appointment today to have your shoulder evaluated so that you can be free to work, play, and live.

Dr. Kai Mithoefer is board certified in both Orthopedic surgery and Orthopedic sports medicine and is a fellowship trained shoulder specialist. Dr. Mithoefer has published more than 100 scientific articles and book chapters and is a frequent speaker at national and international orthopedic meetings.



  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • Arthroscopy Association of North America
  • International Cartilage Regeneration & Joint Preservation Society (ICRS)
  • American Academy of Regenerative Medicine