Shoulder pain may arise from the shoulder joint itself or from any of the many surrounding muscles, ligaments or tendons. Shoulder pain that comes from the joint usually worsens with activities or movement of your arm or shoulder.
Various diseases and conditions affecting structures in your chest or abdomen, such as heart disease or gallbladder disease, also can cause shoulder pain. Shoulder pain that arises from another structure is called referred pain. Referred shoulder pain usually doesn't worsen when you move your shoulder.
Call 911 or emergency medical assistance
Shoulder pain accompanied by difficulty breathing or a sense of tightness in the chest may be a symptom of a heart attack and requires immediate medical attention.
Seek immediate medical attention
Ask someone to drive you to urgent care or the emergency room if your shoulder pain is caused by an injury and is accompanied by:
- A joint that appears deformed
- Inability to use the joint or move your arm away from your body
- Intense pain
- Sudden swelling
Schedule an office visit
Make an appointment with your doctor if your shoulder pain is accompanied by:
- Tenderness and warmth around the joint
To relieve minor shoulder pain you might try:
- Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help.
- Rest. Avoid using your shoulder in ways that cause or worsen pain.
- Ice. Apply an ice pack to your painful shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.
Often, self-care measures and a little time could be all you need to relieve your shoulder pain.
May 20, 2021
- Firestein GS, et al. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed June 20, 2016.
- Anderson BC, et al. Evaluation of the patient with shoulder complaints. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 20, 2016.
- Chorley J, et al. Traumatic causes of acute shoulder pain and injury in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 20, 2016.
- Shoulder pain and common shoulder problems. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00065. Accessed June 25, 2016.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 7, 2016.