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Do you have shoulder pain? Here are some of the most common causes of shoulder pain and what you can do to find relief. Learn more at GPOA today!

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint, meaning that the round head of the upper arm bone (humerus) fits snugly into the cup-like socket of the shoulder blade (scapula). Muscles, ligaments, and tendons hold this joint together. This complex arrangement allows for a wide range of motion in the shoulder, including up and down, side to side, and circular motions.

However, this also makes the human body susceptible to shoulder injuries and shoulder pain. If you're someone who struggles with chronic shoulder pain, you know how debilitating it can be. But what is causing that pain? Is it an injury, or a degenerative condition? And will you need orthopaedic surgery in order to find relief?

At Greater Pittsburgh Orthopaedic Associates (GPOA), our team of experienced shoulder specialists and orthopedic surgeons has treated countless patients with shoulder pain. Whether you need a surgeon for shoulder repair or sports medicine for an injury, we're here to help you find the relief you need.

In this blog post, we'll discuss some of the most common causes of shoulder pain and how our team can help you find relief.


One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is arthritis. Arthritis is a degenerative joint condition that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints breaks down. This can cause the bones to rub together, leading to pain, inflammation, and stiffness.

There are many different types of arthritis, but the two most common types that affect the shoulder are:

  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, and it typically affects people over the age of 50. This type of arthritis is caused by the wear and tear of the joints over time.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack the joints. In a case of rheumatoid arthritis, excess fluid can build up in the joint, causing pain and inflammation.

If you think you may be suffering from arthritis, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing this condition and preventing further joint damage.

If enough damage has been done to the joint, you may require orthopedic surgery to correct the problem. For example, shoulder replacement surgery may be necessary for patients to replace the damaged joint with an artificial one.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries are among the most common athletic injuries at GPOA. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons help lift the upper arm and stabilize the shoulder joint.
Tears to rotator cuff tendons occur due to overuse, repetitive motions, or sudden trauma. Symptoms of torn rotator cuffs include:

  • Pain when lifting the arm
  • Weakness in the arm
  • Stiffness in the shoulder
  • A popping or grinding sensation when moving the arm

If you have a rotator cuff injury, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. These injuries can often be addressed with conservative treatment options, such as rest, ice, and physical therapy.

That said, if these methods fail to provide long-term pain relief, you may require rotator cuff surgery. This type of shoulder surgery is typically done arthroscopically. Shoulder arthroscopy is a minimally-invasive procedure in which the surgeon will make small incisions in the shoulder and insert a tiny camera to guide the surgery rather than opening up the entire shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes the shoulder joint to become stiff and painful. This condition is more common in women than men, and it typically affects people between the ages of 40 and 60.

The symptoms of frozen shoulder include:

  • Pain when moving the arm
  • Stiffness in the shoulder joint
  • Decreased range of motion in the arm
  • A dull ache that may be present even when the arm is at rest

The cause of frozen shoulder is still unknown, but it's thought to be related to an injury or inflammation in the shoulder joint. In some cases, frozen shoulder may also be associated with diabetes or a rotator cuff injury.

If you think you may have frozen shoulder, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. This condition is often treated with physical therapy, which can help to improve range of motion and reduce pain.

In some cases, corticosteroid injections or surgery may be necessary to correct the problem. However, in most cases, a frozen shoulder will eventually resolve independently with time and conservative treatment.

Shoulder Fracture

Shoulder fractures are not as common as other orthopedic injuries, but they can still occur. A shoulder fracture is a break in one or more of the bones that make up the shoulder joint.

The most common type of shoulder fracture is a broken humerus, which is the bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow. Other common types of shoulder fractures include clavicle fractures and scapula (shoulder blade) fractures.

Shoulder fractures are most often caused by orthopedic trauma, such as a fall or direct blow to the shoulder. Symptoms of a shoulder fracture include:

  • Severe pain in the shoulder
  • Swelling and bruising around the injury site
  • Difficulty moving the arm
  • A grinding sensation when the arm is moved

These injuries often require treatment from orthopedic shoulder surgeons to correct the problem. After surgery, you will likely need to wear a sling for several weeks to allow the bone to heal properly. In the case of a severe fracture, this may involve shoulder surgery to insert pins, plates, or screws to hold the bone in place while it heals.

Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability is a condition that can occur when the shoulder joint is damaged or dislocated, causing loose shoulder tissue. This condition is often caused by an injury, such as a fall or direct blow to the shoulder. It can also be caused by repetitive overhead motions, such as those often seen in athletes who play tennis or baseball.

The symptoms of shoulder instability include:

  • Pain in the shoulder joint
  • A feeling of the shoulder 'giving way' or 'dislocating'
  • Swelling around the shoulder joint
  • Difficulty moving the arm
  • A clicking or grinding sensation when moving the arm

If you've ever experienced a 'shoulder dislocation,' this is an example of shoulder instability. Shoulder instability often can be treated with conservative methods, such as physical therapy or wearing a shoulder brace.

In some cases, however, surgery may be the necessary treatment to repair the damaged tendons and stabilize the shoulder joint. Severe, recurring cases of shoulder instability may require total shoulder replacement surgery in order to provide long-term relief.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

It is important to seek medical attention if any of the following symptoms with shoulder pain occur:

  • Severe or persistent pain that does not improve with rest or home remedies.
  • Inability to move the shoulder joint or arm.
  • Swelling, redness, or warmth around the shoulder joint.
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills.
  • Shoulder pain following an injury, fall, or accident.
  • Shoulder pain that interferes with daily activities or significantly impacts quality of life.

Visit the Best Doctor for Shoulder Injuries in Pittsburgh, PA

Shoulder pain is a common orthopedic problem, but fortunately, it's often treatable with conservative methods. If you're experiencing shoulder pain, the first step is to visit an orthopedic doctor or sports medicine specialist for a thorough evaluation.

At Greater Pittsburgh Orthopaedic Associates (GPOA), we have a team of experienced orthopedic surgeons who specialize in treating shoulder injuries, as well as other injuries to the musculoskeletal system. We offer the latest minimally-invasive treatment options to help relieve your pain and improve your range of motion.

Schedule an appointment with a GPOA orthopedic surgeon today. We look forward to helping you get back to enjoying your life pain-free!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can lifestyle factors contribute to an increased risk of developing rotator cuff tears?

Yes, age, smoking, and obesity are all lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of developing rotator cuff tears. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce the chances of experiencing this type of injury. 

Are there any specific stretches to prevent shoulder injuries?

Yes. Specific stretches targeting the rotator cuff, deltoids, and upper back can help prevent shoulder injuries. Examples include shoulder circles, shoulder extension stretches, and cross-body arm stretches. Performing these stretches correctly and with proper form maximizes their effectiveness.

How does posture affect shoulder health?

Poor posture strains the muscles around the shoulders, leading to pain or injury. Maintaining good posture, with relaxed shoulders aligned with the ears, distributes forces evenly and reduces the risk of shoulder problems.

What is shoulder impingement syndrome, and how is it treated

Shoulder impingement syndrome, also called rotator cuff tendinitis, is a condition where the rotator cuff tendons become inflamed and cause pain in the shoulder. This can be treated with rest, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, or surgery if necessary.

How is a torn rotator cuff diagnosed?

A torn rotator cuff can be diagnosed through a physical exam, imaging tests such as an MRI or ultrasound, and sometimes by injecting dye into the joint to view any tears.

Are there any risk factors for developing shoulder joint bone spurs?

Yes, certain occupations and activities that involve repetitive overhead motions or heavy lifting can increase the risk of developing bone spurs in the shoulder joint.

Can referred pain contribute to shoulder pain?

Yes, referred pain is when pain from one part of the body is felt in another, and it can contribute to shoulder pain. In some cases, shoulder pain may actually be coming from a different area of the body, such as the neck or upper back, but is felt in the shoulder. Proper diagnosis and treatment are important for managing referred pain and relieving shoulder pain