What are they?

Most shoulder problems happen when soft tissues in the joint and shoulder region break down.

Who gets them?

Men, women, and children can have shoulder problems. They occur in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

What are the types?

Shoulder problems vary widely. Doctors usually describe the problem by the type, for example:

  • Dislocation, happens when the ball of your top arm bone pops out of your socket.
  • Separation, happens when the ligaments between the collarbone and the shoulder blade area tear.
  • Rotator cuff disease, such as tendinitis and bursitis, happens when tendons in the shoulder inflame or become red, sore or swollen.
  • Torn rotator cuff, a tear in the tendon in the rotator cuff.
  • Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis, happens when movement of the shoulder is restricted.
  • Fracture, is a crack or break in a bone, usually in the collarbone or upper arm bone.
  • Arthritis, can be one of two types:
    • Osteoarthritis, happens when over time the cartilage in the joint wears down and the bones rub together.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that happens when your immune system causes inflammation in a joint.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of your shoulder problems will depend on the specific type of problem you are having.


The signs and symptoms of dislocation in the shoulder include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Numbness.
  • Weakness.
  • Bruising.
  • The arm appears out of position.


The signs and symptoms of shoulder separation include:

  • Pain and tenderness.
  • A bump in the middle of the top of the shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Disease

The signs and symptoms of rotator cuff disease may be due to tendinitis or bursitis and may include a slow onset of pain:

  • In the upper part of your arm.
  • When trying to sleep on your shoulder.
  • That travels down your arm.
  • That worsens when you lift your arm away from the body or over your head.

Torn Rotator Cuff

The signs and symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include:

  • Pain in the muscle in the top of the arm and the outer shoulder.
  • Increased pain when lifting the arm or extending it out and lowering the arm back down.
  • Weakness.
  • A popping or clicking noise when moving the shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder

The signs and symptoms of a frozen shoulder include:

  • Stiffness in the joint.
  • Tightness.
  • Unable to lift the arm.


The signs and symptoms of a fracture include:

  • Severe pain.
  • Redness.
  • Bruising.
  • The bones may appear out of position.


The signs and symptoms of arthritis of the shoulder include:

  • Pain.
  • Decrease in shoulder motion.

What causes them?

Human shoulderMost shoulder problems happen when the soft tissues in the shoulder breakdown. This can happen when you:

  • Repeating the same motion with your shoulder.
  • Aging.
  • Using the shoulder too much, especially if you are older.
  • Performing manual labor.
  • Injuring the shoulder, sometimes from playing sports or falling.

Is there a test?

Doctors diagnose shoulder problems by:

  • Asking about your medical history.
  • Performing a physical exam.
  • Ordering tests, such as:
    • X-rays.
    • Ultrasound.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.

How are they treated?


Treatment for a shoulder dislocation may also include:

  • Your doctor placing the ball of your upper arm back into the socket.
  • Wearing a sling or device to keep your shoulder in place.
  • Exercises to improve
    • Range of motion.
    • Strengthen muscles.
    • Prevent injuries.
  • Surgery if you injure the tissues or nerves around the shoulder.


Treatment for a shoulder separation may also include:

  • A sling to keep your shoulder in place.
  • Exercise, after a time of rest.
  • Surgery if the tear is severe.

Rotator Cuff Disease

Treatment for tendinitis and bursitis includes:

  • Medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen to help lower your pain and swelling
  • Ultrasound to warm deep tissues and improve blood flow to the area of your injury.
  • Injection of a corticosteroid drug if your shoulder is not getting better.
  • Surgery if after 6 to 12 months your shoulder is not better.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Treatment for a rotator cuff tear may also include:

  • Heat or cold to the sore area of your injury.
  • Medicines to help your pain and swelling.
  • Electrical stimulation of your muscles and nerves.
  • Ultrasound to warm deep tissues and improve blood flow to the area of your injury.
  • Injection of a cortisone medicine into your shoulder joint.
  • Surgery to repair the tear if you don’t see improvement with other treatments.

Frozen Shoulder

Treatment for a frozen shoulder may also include:

  • Medicines to help with pain and swelling.
  • Heat to the sore area.
  • Stretching exercises.
  • Nerve and muscle stimulation using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
  • Injection of a corticosteroid drug if your shoulder is not better.
  • Surgery if the shoulder does not improve with other treatments.


Treatment for a fracture may include:

  • A doctor putting the bones into a position to promote healing.
  • A sling or other device to keep the bones in place.
  • After the bone heals, exercise to strengthen the shoulder and restore movement.
  • Surgery.


Treatment for arthritis may include:

  • Medicines to help with pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy.

If you injure a shoulder, try the following:

  • Rest. Don’t use your shoulder for 48 hours
  • Ice. Put an ice pack on your injured shoulder for 20 minutes, four to eight times per day. You can use a:
    • Cold pack.
    • Ice bag.
    • Plastic bag filled with crushed ice wrapped in a towel.
  • Compression. Put even pressure or compression on the painful area to help reduce the swelling to your shoulder. A wrap or bandage will help hold your shoulder in place.
  • Elevation. If you are able, keep the injured area above the level of your heart. Using a pillow under your shoulder will help.
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