4 Common Types of Shoulder Pain & When to See a Doctor

While not as frequently discussed as other types of joint pain—including knee pain and hip pain—shoulder pain is extremely common across the U.S. Over time, damage to the muscles, tendons, and cartilage surrounding the shoulder joint can trigger mild pain that worsens as the inflammation grows.

If you’re experiencing stiffness, soreness, pain, swelling, redness, or slight discomfort in/near your shoulder, don’t take it lightly. Here’s a roundup of the four most common types of shoulder pain and a guide to help you decide when to seek help.

man experiencing shoulder pain at work

1. Frozen Shoulder

Also known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is characterized by achy pain near the shoulder. The discomfort may extend to the upper arm in some cases.

The condition is triggered by the tightening of the tough connective tissue capsule around the joint. This results in joint stiffness and muscle spasms. Over time, the person may struggle to move the shoulder without experiencing sharp pangs of pain that radiate along the upper limb.

Should I See a Doctor?

While frozen shoulder can pass with time, patients experience recurring pain that affects their ability to perform routine chores and takes a toll on their mental health. To improve the condition, consult a doctor close to when you experience the onset of symptoms. Frozen shoulder can be corrected with physical therapy and steroid injections.

2. Rotator Cuff Injury

As one of the most prominent types of shoulder pain, rotator cuff injuries are more common among individuals aged 40 and above. Depending on your symptoms, you may have developed a rotator cuff inflammation or a rotator cuff tear.

The former is caused by inflammation and irritation of the rotator cuff muscles. The latter is mostly the result of an injury or excessive wear and tear caused by exercises like swimming and weightlifting.

Patients may struggle to adequately raise their arms above shoulder height.

Should I See a Doctor?

physical therapist evaluating a woman’s shoulder condition

Rotator cuff injuries should be taken very seriously. If you hear a cracking sound when moving your shoulder or experience discomfort when lifting objects, consult your doctor. The condition can be treated with rest, physical therapy, steroid injections, anti-inflammatory medication, and surgery.

3. Labrum Tear

Shoulder labrum tears are caused by damage to the cartilage lining of the glenoid. The condition is difficult to prevent, and causes aching pain accompanied by restricted range of motion.

Should I See a Doctor?

Labrum tears can be treated with physical therapy and, if the condition is very serious, surgery (debridement). However, it usually doesn’t come to that. The sooner you see a doctor, the better. We suggest reaching out for help if you experience discomfort in the region in front of the shoulder close to the biceps tendon.

4. Arthritis

3D figure of an inflamed shoulder

Shoulder arthritis is extremely common. The condition is caused by the disintegration of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in the shoulder. As the articular tissue becomes damaged, the bones aggressively rub together, causing severe shoulder pain. During the initial stages of the condition, the pain is relatively mild. Over time, it progressively worsens, requiring immediate help.

Should I See a Doctor?

Shoulder arthritis causes pain in and around the shoulder. In some cases, it also extends in the neck. Consult your doctor with the onset of symptoms.

Looking to gain relief from shoulder pain? At Houston Physicians’ Hospital, we offer expert diagnosis and treatment for different types of shoulder pain and conditions. Our treatment plans include physical therapy, medication (NSAIDs or corticosteroids), arthroscopy, and shoulder replacement, among others.

If you’re showing symptoms of a shoulder injury, find a doctor who’s right for you for timely diagnosis and treatment.

We also specialize in general surgery, hip surgery, and knee replacement.