If you've ever felt shoulder pain or stiffness after waking up, finishing a workout, or even during daily activities, you're not alone.
Shoulder pain is one of the most common ailments in adults; it's so common that many people think they just have to live with it. It turns out, that 18-26% of adults have been affected by shoulder pain at some point in their lives, and although the statistics are high, that doesn't mean you have to live in pain.
Anatomy of the Shoulder
Figuring out why you're experiencing shoulder pain when you didn't do anything can be frustrating; the shoulder is one of the most freely movable areas of the body, making it prone to issues.
The anatomy of the shoulder includes three bones (clavicle, scapula, and humerus), along with dozens of muscles, ligaments, and tendons that all meet up to give us flexibility in any direction. The joints connect the different sections of the arm and shoulder while the muscles give us movement.
Common Conditions Causing Shoulder Pain
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Your rotator cuff is the part of your shoulder that helps to keep your arm in the socket and gives you a range of motion. Rotator cuff injuries can get in the way of your quality of life due to limited mobility and general pain.
Rotator cuff injuries are common in adults, especially due to wear and tear from everyday activities, repeating the same movements, and overuse. People that participate in sports or have physically demanding jobs may experience this issue more commonly, for example, tennis players or painters. Over time, that damage can become too much and muscle tissue can strain or even tear, leading to a rotator cuff injury. Here are a few different types of injuries that can occur:
Rotator cuff tears: Tears can happen either from an injury or from overuse and irritation over time. Partial tears and full tears depend on how severe the irritation is. If you have a tear, you will primarily feel pain when lifting your arm or laying down.
Bursitis: The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that protects the area between the rotator cuff and shoulder bones through lubrication. This injury can happen when bone and muscle rub the sac too often, causing it to swell and feel painful. Pain that accompanies bursitis can include pain in the front and side of your shoulder, and stiffness.
Tendinitis: Tendinitis occurs when the tendons in the rotator cuff become irritated from being pinched, which can lead to swelling and pain. If you have tendinitis, you will most likely feel pain in the front and side of your shoulder.
General symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include:
Pain when you lie down.
Pain when lifting your arm.
Pain when reaching behind your back.
Weakness of the arm.
A clicking or popping sound when moving your arm.
Frozen shoulder is a condition that can happen for seemingly no reason at all, as there isn’t a specific cause attributed to it. It primarily affects an older population of 50-65-year-olds and can result in pain and stiffness. The frozen shoulder gets its name for obvious reasons; your shoulder quite literally feels frozen and hard to move.
This condition usually has three phases when it comes to symptoms: freezing, frozen, and thawing.
Freezing phase: The onset of pain and stiffness starts in this phase, and gradually worsens, especially at night. This phase can last from 2-9 months.
Frozen phase: The pain slowly fades, but stiffness is lasting and can get worse, with your shoulder becoming more and more limited in its movements. The muscles can get weaker and smaller as well due to not using the shoulder as much because of the limitations. This phase can last from 4-12 months.
Thawing phase: The pain and stiffness gradually leave and movement returns to near normalcy as you are in the recovery phase. This can last anywhere from one to three years.
Shoulder osteoarthritis happens when your shoulder cartilage is damaged, either from an injury or gradual wear and tear with age. As the cartilage breaks down, your bones are more susceptible to friction, causing arthritis which involves pain and inflammation.
Common symptoms include:
Shoulder joint pain: You may feel pain in the front, side, or back of the shoulder either in use or at rest. The pain can radiate down the arm, elbow, and wrist if severe enough. The pain can increase with lifting or carrying heavy objects, or after exercise.
Joint stiffness: If you start to feel stiffness in your shoulder, that can be another symptom of arthritis. That stiffness can limit your range of motion in the shoulder and you might not be able to do the activities or daily movements you could before.
Clicking or cracking of the shoulder: As the cartilage decreases in the shoulder, you may start to hear clicking or cracking because of the uneven surface the erosion presents. The shoulder can slide around or lock up, and it may or may not be painful.
Although shoulder pain can often get better over time through at-home methods, the best option for your body would be to seek physical therapy if the pain starts to interfere with your daily activities and movements. Here at Rehab United Seattle, we take a functional approach to our treatment to get to the root cause of your issue. Our highly trained physical therapists will assess your pain and symptoms, and craft a personalized treatment plan from there, taking into account your lifestyle and hobbies. We will make sure to not only stop your pain, but prevent it from coming back! Schedule an evaluation today!
Not ready to schedule? We have put together a free guide to ease shoulder pain and stiffness. In this guide, our shoulder pain experts give 7 quick and easy tips that you can utilize at home to start reducing your pain today. All you need to do is submit your email and you will get the guide sent to you immediately. Get the free guide now!
Ariela Liberman is a Marketing Associate and a staff writer for Rehab United, with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies. Born and raised in San Diego, she is a Southern California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.
Medically Reviewed by: Kelly Vanhove, PT, DPT, FAFS, ATC
Dr. Vanhove is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, and Director of the Seattle Rehab United Clinic. With over 14 years of experience in outpatient physical therapy as well as being a Fellow of Applied Functional Science, he possesses valuable knowledge of all functional techniques of assessment, rehabilitation, training and conditioning, performance, and prevention.