3 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is the third most common condition to present at physiotherapy clinics in the U.K. and it can be very disabling and painful for those affected. In this article we cover the three most common causes of shoulder pain and how to treat them .

1. Shoulder Impingement aka sub-acromial pain syndrome.


This is an umbrella term for pain which is originating in the subacromial space (the gap between the two bones in the shoulder). Normally, there is sufficient space in between the acromion and the humerus for tissues to sit and move comfortably. However, sometimes inflammation can occur which cause cause a reduction in space in this area and therefore catching and pain. This can be inflammation of the bursa, tendon and sometimes extra bone growth on the clavicle. It normally presents as pain at the top and outer aspect of the arm which gets worse when moving the arm above your head.

If you think you have this you should:

  • Avoid aggravating activities e.g. tennis or overhead weights

  • Don't stop moving the arm completely

  • Try to keep it moving with normal day to day activities and don't wear a sling.

  • Use ice 10 mins 2-3x daily (wrap in a towel first).

  • If it does not settle in a few weeks contact a physiotherapist or GP for advice.

2. Adhesive Capsulitis aka frozen shoulder.


Adhesive capsulitis is caused by inflammation and contracture of the capsule that sits around the shoulder. It normally comes on gradually but can also be due to trauma and can be very painful. The movement of your shoulder will be restricted and feel very stiff. If you think you have this condition we advise seeing your GP, they are likely to recommend pain relief and physiotherapy. Some advice about what to do and what not to to is detailed below.

  • Do make sure you gently keep the shoulder moving

  • Do make sure your posture is good at all times

  • Don't do heavy weights or excessive exercise


3. Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff are a small group of muscles that surround the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff provides the shoulder with stability whilst also aiding movement. A common injury to the rotator cuff is a tear. These can be either partial of full thickness. The location and size of the tear along with other factors such as age and general health will alter the management plan. Some tears can be treated with physiotherapy and others require surgical treatment. Tears can occur over time from degeneration and can also be from trauma. Tears will cause pain and reduced movement in your shoulder. If you suspect you have an rotator cuff tear seek advice from a physiotherapist or GP.