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Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust


Shoulder pain

Shoulder pain is very common and can affect 3 in 10 adults at any one time. It can be caused by something as simple as taking off a coat, lifting something awkwardly or a trip or fall. There are also normal age related changes that can cause symptoms to flare up now and again for no reason.

There are a number of different types of shoulder problems, which can include:

  • Frozen shoulder – a painful condition that reduces normal movement in the joint and can sometimes prevent movement in the shoulder altogether
  • Rotator cuff disorders – the rotator cuff are a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. Pain is often worse whilst moving your shoulder and sometimes there is weakness.
  • Shoulder instability – where the shoulder is unstable and can feel like it is clicking or locking.
  • Acromioclavicular joint disorders – conditions, including osteoarthritis that affect the acromioclavicular joint, which is the joint at the top of the shoulder
  • Osteoarthritis in the shoulder joints
  • A broken (fractured) bone, dislocated shoulder or ruptured tendon causing a very bad pain where you can’t move your arm (or it’s difficult) and it sometimes changes shape.

In some cases, pain in the shoulder isn’t caused by a problem in the shoulder joint, but by a problem in another area, such as the neck, that is felt in the shoulder and upper back.

When to seek immediate help

Speak to a healthcare professional straight away if there has been significant trauma e.g. a fall from a height or a direct blow and your pain is preventing any shoulder movement at all.

Self help

Keeping active is an essential part of treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.

There are several links below which provide advice and exercise specifically for the shoulder. These can be tried at home.

Using painkillers such as ibuprofen, or ice packs can help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain in your shoulder.

 Avoiding heavier activities that may aggravate your symptoms will also help.

In most cases, shoulder disorders improve over time if treatment advice is followed.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if there is no sign of improvement after a couple of weeks.

Depending on the cause of your shoulder pain, you may need further treatment, such as:

  • physiotherapy
  • injections of corticosteroids – a type of medication that contains hormones
  • surgery (in some cases)

Shoulder pain can be a long-term problem: some people still have symptoms after 18 months. A correct diagnosis will ensure you receive the right treatment.

Please see 'Related Links' to left of this page.