As with most types of back pain, there are many different types of upper shoulder pain and each person can experience a slightly different set of symptoms. The pain can be experienced either in or surrounding the scapula (shoulder blade), within the joint itself, or be referred from other local areas. If the pain is within the shoulder joint itself then it could also be caused by a number of conditions. It would probably be worthwhile briefly describing the different components of the shoulder. Within the joint itself, the collarbone meets the humerus (the arm bone) and the shoulder blade. Tendons hold the various shoulder muscles onto the bones, and ligaments secure the bones together to ensure they remain in position.
Frozen Shoulder Pain
The technical term for a frozen shoulder is ‘adhesive capsulitis’, and it can be caused by not using the shoulder due to it being painful or injured. Sports injuries can be triggers for frozen shoulders as the pain that you experience may mean that you restrict the movement that you allow your shoulder to make. Over time this restricted movement may mean that an adhesion of tissue grows in the normal space between the joints, and an absence of lubricating synovial fluid is also common. The adhesion within the upper shoulder prevents you from being able to move your arm, and the pain can worsen at night. Diagnosis is usually by a simple range of movement test, as an X-ray would appear normal. Treatment for this type of upper shoulder pain can include anti-inflammatory medicines, stretching exercises and a course of physical therapy.
Arthritis of the Shoulder
Arthritis is a degenerative condition that is more prevalent in the over-40s, This type of arthritis is called ‘osteoarthritis’, however another type called ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ has a different cause – it develops due to an inflammation in between your joints. Upper shoulder pain can occur with both types of arthritis, however it is typically the acromioclavicular joint where pain is experienced. Arthritis pain can be a low chronic level, or a more sharp acute pain (particularly when suffering from rheumatoid arthritis). Pain and swelling of the shoulder associated with a restricted range of movement is the usual sign that arthritis is present. Treatment generally involves medication, with osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis requiring different types of drugs.
Other Causes of Shoulder Pain
The two conditions listed above are two of the most common causes of having painful upper shoulders, however there are a range of other conditions that can cause aches and pains. None are as serious as the potential issues if you’re experiencing left shoulder pain, however some (particularly those related to injury) can still cause intense pain and aggravation.
Sprains and strains are also a highly common cause typically caused by overuse or sporting injury. Also related to these causes is a shoulder dislocation. This would cause intense pain, and a floppy arm that is painful, drooped down and difficult (if not impossible) to move would be the obvious symptoms.
Your rotator cuff is a pocket of supportive tendons for your arm at your shoulder joint. There are a few different issues that can be present in this locality. A torn rotator cuff can be caused due to injury or overuse as a sprain or strain can be. Other conditions in this area consist of rotator cuff bursitis or tendonitis. Tendonitis is inflammation and swelling that is typically accompanied by redness of the shoulder, whilst bursitis also relates to inflammation but is an inflammation of the bursa sacs.
Whatever the cause of the pain in your upper shoulders, if it is intense or persistent then I wouldn’t hesitate in immediately seeking a professional medical opinion, however in some circumstances (such as a sprain after overuse) then you might consider that taking common household painkillers is effective to reduce the swelling and pain in the short-term.