Why is my shoulder painful?

Shoulder pain is extremely common.

It can significantly impact your daily life, making simple tasks like reaching for a shelf or brushing your hair challenging and painful. As a shoulder surgeon, I encounter patients every day who are seeking relief from their shoulder pain. Understanding the causes of shoulder pain and stiffness and exploring the treatment options available can provide a roadmap to recovery.


Let’s delve into this important topic together.

Dr Gavin Nimon

Dr Gavin Nimon

Shoulder Specialist

Dr Gavin Nimon is an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in Shoulder, upper limb conditions and Knee injuries. He is head of shoulder surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide and teaches undergraduate medical students and trainee orthopaedic surgeons.

Causes of Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is a complex joint with a wide range of motion, and its functionality is crucial for many daily activities.


Pain in the shoulder can arise from :

  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder. Injuries here can cause significant pain and restriction of movement.
  • Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): This condition involves the tightening and thickening of the shoulder capsule leading to severe limitation of motion.
  • Shoulder Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can both affect the shoulder, leading to pain, stiffness, and a decrease in range of motion.
  • Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursa, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the shoulder joint, can cause discomfort and stiffness.
  • Biceps Tendonitis: Inflammation of the Bicep tendon in the shoulder from overuse or injury can lead to pain and limited movement. It may even rupture leading to a popeye sign of a lump further down the upper arm.
  • Acromio-Clavicular joint arthritis: This relates to pain arising from arthritis where the clavicle meets the main shoulder bone (acromion part of the scapula) and is localised at this site.

The Site of pain

The site of pain can vary

  • Pain in the front of the shoulder, more common with arthritis or frozen shoulder.
  • Pain down the side of the arm more common with bursitis and rotator cuff tears, worse when lifting arm half way up (painful arc).
  • Pain at the top of the shoulder, worse with overhead activities is classic of acromio-clavicular arthritis.
  • Pain at the base of the neck or down the inner border of the shoulder blade is usually arising from the neck (cervical spine).
Pain at the bas of the neck

Pain felt at the base of the neck or between shoulder blades ( scapula) is classic for neck origins.

Treatment for shoulder pain varies depending on the cause.

As a specialist shoulder surgeon, my goal is to provide you with the most effective treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Here are some of the treatment options we might consider:

  • Physical Therapy: Often the first line of treatment, physical therapy can help improve the strength and flexibility of your shoulder, reducing pain and improving range of motion.
  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce pain and swelling. In some cases, corticosteroid injections might be recommended to decrease inflammation more significantly.
  • Surgery: If non-surgical treatments do not provide relief, surgery may be necessary. Surgical options can range from minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures to address rotator cuff injuries or remove inflamed tissue, to more extensive surgeries like shoulder replacement for severe arthritis.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Recovery and rehabilitation are crucial components of treatment for shoulder pain. Following surgery, a comprehensive rehabilitation program will help you regain strength and flexibility in your shoulder. The length of recovery varies depending on the specific procedure and individual factors, but commitment to rehabilitation is key to achieving the best possible outcome.

Preventing Shoulder Pain and Stiffness

Prevention is always better than cure. Maintaining good shoulder health involves regular exercise to strengthen the shoulder and maintain flexibility, practicing good posture, and avoiding repetitive motions that could strain the shoulder.


As a shoulder surgeon, my priority is to help you return to your daily activities without pain and with full functionality of your shoulder. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain and stiffness, don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation.

I will assess your symptoms, diagnose the cause of your pain, and propose a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Remember, at Glenelg Orthopaedics our goal is to to provide quality and affordable orthopaedic care, and treat shoulder pain and stiffness, so as to help you find relief and regain your quality of life.