Shoulder Symptoms

Location hints at the cause

Shoulder Pain Symptoms

Swelling

  • Osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, or crystal arthritis (gout or pseudogout)
  • Infection
  • Cancer (rarely)
  • Labrum tear
  • Rotator cuff tear

Shoulder or Arm Weakness

  • Rotator cuff tear
  • Cervical nerve root pinching
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • AC joint osteolysis
  • Glenohumeral joint osteoarthritis
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome 
  • Parsonage-turner syndrome 

Pain in the Front of the Shoulder

  • Biceps tendon tear or tendinopathy
  • Rotator cuff tear or tendinopathy
  • AC joint osteoarthritis or osteolysis
  • Nerve pinching or inflammation 

Pain in the Side of the Shoulder

  • Rotator cuff tear or tendinopathy
  • Nerve pinching or inflammation
  • Cervical facet joint arthritis or irritation
  • Parsonage-turner syndrome
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome 
  • Muscle injury

Pain in the Back of the Shoulder

  • Rotator cuff tear. The two rotator cuff tendons affecting the back portion of the shoulder include infraspinatus and teres minor.
  • Shoulder joint, or “glenohumeral joint,” osteoarthritis
  • Joint capsule instability
  • Cervical nerve pinching
  • Cervical facet joint arthritis or irritation

Pain in the Top of the Shoulder

  • AC (acromioclavicular) joint osteoarthritis
  • Shoulder separation (AC separation)

Rotator cuff tear

  • Cervical nerve root pain
  • Facet joint osteoarthritis
  • AC joint osteolysis or “weightlifter’s shoulder”.
  • AC ligament strain or sprain

Pain Deep in the Joint

  • Shoulder joint, or “glenohumeral joint,” osteoarthritis
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Frozen shoulder or “adhesive capsulitis”
  • Unstable shoulder
  • Labrum injury
  • Rotator cuff injury

Pain, numbness, or tingling down the arms

  • Cervical nerve root impingement
  • Nerve injury
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (pain and numbness in the hands) 

Under the Shoulder Blade

  • Subscapular bursitis
  • Cervical nerve root impingement
  • Cervical facet osteoarthritis

Summary

The shoulder is a complex joint with many structures and tissues that can contribute to pain. Osteoarthritis and rotator cuff injuries are among the most common causes of shoulder pain. When experiencing shoulder problems, it is important to have a thorough evaluation with an experienced provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis and create an appropriate treatment plan.

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