Skip to main content
Dartmouth-Hitchcock logo
Summer Flowers In This Section

Shoulder Pain

What is shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain is a general term for any discomfort felt in or around the shoulder.

What are the signs of shoulder pain?

Symptoms can vary and include:

  • Sudden, sharp pain
  • Dull, aching pain
  • Inability to lift the arm
  • Loss of full movement of the shoulder or arm

What causes shoulder pain?

The shoulder is the most movable joint in the body. However, it is the least stable joint and can be easily injured. Any swelling (inflammation), tearing, or problems with the bones may cause pain in the shoulder.

Shoulder pain may be caused by:

How does my doctor tell if I have shoulder pain?

The doctor will take some of the following steps to see what kind of shoulder pain a patient has:

  • Talk with the patient about whether an injury happened and take some history, if appropriate
  • Do a physical exam of the shoulder, testing for pain related to various different movements
  • Order an X-ray to help in diagnosis
  • Arrange for an MRI (magnetic resonance image) to get a clearer picture of the shoulder

How is shoulder pain treated?

The treatment of shoulder pain depends on the cause of the pain.

Home care options

Before seeing a physician there are some home care treatment options that may reduce the pain.

  • Rest: Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours.
  • Ice: Put an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times per day. Use a cold pack, ice bag, or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice that has been wrapped in a towel.
  • Compression: Compression may help reduce the swelling. Compress the area with bandages, such as an elastic wrap, to help stabilize the shoulder.
  • Elevation: Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart. Use a pillow to help elevate the injury.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: If there is swelling taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may help to reduce the swelling and pain.

Call your doctor if

  • You experience pain for more than a week
  • You have a fever or redness
  • You are unable to move the shoulder
Contact Us