The shoulder is made up of three bones: upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle). The humerus has a round head that fits into a socket of the scapula. This type of joint is often referred to as the ball and socket joint. Shoulder joints are stabilized by muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff. Shoulder muscles are responsible for shoulder movement along with tendons, which anchor muscles to the bones.
Everyone experiences shoulder pain at some point in their life. Most often, shoulder pain is due to injury, instability, tendon inflammation, or arthritis. In some cases, shoulder pain is a symptom of a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention, such as shoulder fracture or infection.
Shoulder can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms such as numbness, tingling, throbbing, aching, soreness, stiffness, and increased warmth or cold. Shoulder pain can be dull, sharp, tingling, burning, continuous, or intermittent, and can radiate down the arm. Shoulder pain in form of burning or “pins and needles” sensation (paresthesia) is caused by temporary or permanent nerve damage.
Numerous medical conditions can cause shoulder pain. Tingling and shoulder pain, which radiate down the arm, may be signs of a pinched nerve in the neck or a heart attack. Arthritis and frozen shoulder can cause shoulder pain and stiffness while infection results in shoulder pain associated with redness and swelling at the site of infection.
Shoulder overuse can lead to inflammation or tearing of the tendons as seen in the rotator cuff pathology. Bursitis may be caused by shoulder trauma and is often associated with rotator cuff tendonitis. Tendon pain is a symptom of tendinosis caused by small tears in the tissue around the tendon or tendonitis, which is the result of inflammation, irritation and tendon swelling. Often, with shoulder pain you may feel decreased strength and motion. Shoulder pain can also be caused by rotator cuff tears or shoulder impingement, which occur when the top of the shoulder blade (acromion) rubs or “impinges” on the rotator cuff tendons and shoulder bursa. Shoulder instability may occur when the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the shoulder become loose or torn.
It is important to keep in mind, that complications associated with shoulder pain can be very serious and can result in chronic disability, inability to perform daily tasks, arm deformity, and even spread of infection to the rest of the body causing sepsis. If you are experiencing persistent pain or other symptoms in your shoulder, please contact your health care provider.