What are Common Causes of Shoulder and Arm Pain?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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Shoulder and arm pain is most often caused by injuries that result from a trauma, though other issues can cause shoulder and arm pain either independently from each other or at the same time. Strained or torn muscles, sprained ligaments, bursitis, and tendinitis and arthritis are common causes of shoulder and arm pain; less common but more severe causes include shoulder dislocations, separations, and bone fractures. Soreness or tenderness due to overuse of the muscles is quite common, especially among athletic people, and this is considered a minor condition that can usually be treated with adequate rest.

Injuries to the shoulder and arm can result in a variety of conditions, including bone fractures. A fracture occurs when the bones of the body endure a shock or strain greater than its capacity to endure. The bone will essentially crack, leading to shoulder and arm pain if the injury is incurred in that area of the body. Minor fractures are treated with rest and immobilization, while more serious fractures may require a surgery to heal properly. The elderly are more likely to be victim of a bone fracture, since bones tend to lose mass as humans age. Strengthening bones by adjusting diet and exercising regularly can help prevent bone fractures.


Tendinitis occurs when the tendons that connect muscles to bone become inflamed for any reason. This condition can lead to shoulder and arm pain, especially when the tendinitis occurs in the rotator cuff area of the shoulder. Tendinitis is often treated with the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. In more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and/or painkillers, and in chronic tendinitis situations, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair or eradicate damaged tissue.

Arthritis in the shoulder can lead to shoulder and arm pain as well, and unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. This condition is degenerative and occurs when ligaments and cartilage in joints begin to wear out and break down. Swelling and inflammation very often accompany arthritis, and the joint may begin to move in ways it does not normally move, leading to more pain. Pain management techniques for arthritis include regular exercise and stretching, anti-inflammatory medications, and topical ointments.

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the scapula and upper arm bone separate from each other. This can be an extremely painful injury, and the bone will need to be reset into the socket. Ligament damage is likely, and recovery time can be prolonged. This injury is different from a shoulder separation, which occurs in a different area of the shoulder.



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