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What Kind Of Shoulder Pain Do You Have?

What Kind Of Shoulder Pain Do You Have?

and when you should consider seeing a doctor

Shoulder pain can be caused by many things. You could have injured it in an accident or simply overused it. It may be caused by a condition such as arthritis – and some of your pain may simply be time and use-related. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you’re trying to figure out what may have caused your shoulder pain:

Do You Have An Injury?

Think back to when you first noticed your shoulder pain. Did you recently have a fall or hit your shoulder or arm on something? Do you play pickleball, tennis, softball or other overhead sports a lot? Try to move your arm – is your shoulder too stiff or painful for normal movement? Is there swelling along the joint? Can you lift your arm above your head?

Most shoulder injuries can likely be treated at home with ice compresses, stretching and rest. Bandaging the affected arm to make sure you aren’t moving it may be very helpful but only for a very short-time. If you have lingering pain or stiffness that gets worse, not better, or if your shoulder is noticeably swollen or warm to the touch, you may need to see a doctor. Some common injuries that require a doctor’s visit are:

  • Fracture. This occurs when you fall or suffer a heavy blow. Your collarbone or upper arm may crack. There will be immediate bruising and intense pain. Often, you will not be able to use your arm at all or only very little.
  • Dislocation. This is probably one of the most common shoulder injuries that requires medical attention. This is when the arm pops out of its socket. You will feel immediate pain and loss of strength in the joint, and may experience numbness and bruising.  A more minor dislocation can occur at the AC (acromioclavicular) joint; this is common after falling onto the point of the shoulder. 
  • Cartilage Tear. Cartilage is the “padding” that encircles the rim of your shoulder joint. When this cartilage is damaged, you will feel pain when you reach your arm over your head and possibly feel a painful grinding sensation.
  • Rotator Cuff or Labral tear.  Tears of the tendons and other connective tissue about the shoulder are exceedingly common and are the rule rather than the exception after the age of 50 or so.  Most people have degeneration of these tissues that starts in the 30s or so.  Tears will occur with even normal activities during daily use of the arm.  Lack of full strength, limits in normal motion and pain with reaching behind or overhead are common symptoms with these injuries.  Seek professional evaluation if you believe that you have a tear of muscle in the shoulder. 

What If It's Not An Injury:

Sometimes, shoulder pain can occur without an injury to cause it. Often, such pain is age-related and can usually be treated with rest and ice.

  • Frozen Shoulder. This is a condition that limits your shoulder’s range of movement. Over time, bands of tissue build up in the joint and prevent it from moving freely. While the exact cause of this condition is not clear, your risk of frozen shoulder increases if you have diabetes or heart disease.  The stiffness of this condition leads to pain and should be managed carefully and conservatively as much as possible.  
  • Bursitis. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions your shoulder joint. If you repeat the same motions over and over again – such as when you’re playing tennis, painting, or performing other activities that require repetitive movement, this sac can become irritated. Pain associated with bursitis occurs when you’re moving your shoulder.
  • Arthritis. Osteoarthritis, an age-related condition, or rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that causes your body’s immune system to attack the protective lining in your joints, can cause pain and stiffness. Both forms of arthritis cause the cartilage to wear down between bones in the shoulder joint, causing them to rub together.  Chronic inflammation from diet or environment can make the arthritis flare and become painful; seek care when this happens. Read our helpful guide about how to safely and effectively reduce arthritis symptoms at home!

The above conditions can be injury-related, and can sometimes require medical attention as well. It’s important to stay in tune with your body so that you know when it’s time to see a doctor. Dr. Warner, orthopedic surgeon and founder of Well Theory, always takes a patient-led approach in her treatment methodologies – which is why she founded Well Theory. Use our resources and natural pain-fighting products to relieve your pain and restore balance for the betterment of your overall well-being!


Dr. Meredith Warner is the creator of Well Theory and The Healing Sole. She is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Air Force Veteran.

She is on a mission to disrupt traditional medicine practices and promote betterment physically, spiritually and mentally to many more people. She advocates for wellness and functional health over big pharma so more people can age vibrantly with more function and less pain.

At Well Theory, Our surgeon-designed products are FDA Registered and formulated to help people:

  • Manage the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain
  • Recover vibrantly from orthopedic related surgeries
  • Fill the gaps in our daily diets
  • Manage pain associated with inflammation

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