Types of Shoulder Pain and How to Deal With Them

shoulder pain

Most of us experience shoulder pain at some point in our lives, whether because of an injury or because we’re lifting something we shouldn’t be lifting.

While many things can cause shoulder pain, most pain falls into one of seven categories, each with its potential causes and treatments. Here are the types of shoulder pain and how to deal with them.

What is shoulder pain?

While it’s normal for people to experience shoulder pain at least once in their lifetime, knowing exactly what type affects you can be challenging. Some common types are posterior shoulder pain, warm or burning shoulder pain, shooting (radiating) shoulder pain, sharp shoulder pain, or aching shoulder pain.

Many people know the feeling, which is often sharp and gets worse with specific movements. After experiencing pain for a long time, the joints in your shoulder may shift or change position due to an imbalance in the muscular structures supporting them.

What you can do about it depends on what type of pain you’re experiencing: warm or burning shoulder pain, sharp shoulder pain, and aching pain.

Shoulder anatomy

The shoulder is a very complex joint made up of three bones (clavicle, scapula, and humerus), allowing for a wide range of movement.

The head of the humerus (where the ball at the end attaches) rests in the glenoid fossa, which is located in the top part of your arm. From there, it can move in all directions to make movements such as pushing, pulling, rotating, etc. What do you need to know about shoulder pain?

This pain could be from pinched nerves, bursitis (bursae are tiny sacs filled with fluid that help cushion muscles and joints), arthritis, or impingement syndrome. Depending on what’s causing the pain will determine how you should treat it.

Why do we have shoulder pain?

The shoulder is a common area for pain. The shoulder can be painful in many different ways. A shoulder injury, such as a dislocation or tear, can cause sharp pain that radiates into the arm, chest, neck, or jaw.

The most common type of acute pain in the shoulder(lasting less than three months) is posterior shoulder pain which arises from the soft tissues at the back of the joint. Your arms being weighted down by bags also can contribute to some chronic aches and pains. Tension from tight muscles causes those muscles to spasm and pull on your joints.

These pains typically happen at night, waking you up with a sudden jolt when they tighten up. There are seven types of shoulder pain:

  • Posterior shoulder-pain
  • Chronic rotator cuff syndrome
  • Acute bursitis
  • Degenerative changes in the glenohumeral joint
  • Scapular winging
  • Acute adhesive capsulitis
  • Acute calcific tendonitis
  • Muscle strain

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition in which the shoulder joint becomes stiff. This can cause pain and make it difficult to move the arm. Frozen shoulder can occur in people of any age, but it is most common in those over 40 years old.

If you have had an injury to your arms, such as a fracture or dislocation, this will increase your risk of a frozen shoulder. You may also be at increased risk if you use your arms in a repetitive motion like sewing or knitting.

Other factors contributing to frozen shoulder development include arthritis, poor posture, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.

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Rotator Cuff Tear

If the rotator cuff is not strengthened and the flexibility is compromised, it can lead to several rotator cuff problems. It can also cause posterior shoulder-pain, shooting (radiating) shoulder pain, sharp shoulder pain, or aching shoulder pain.

Treatment varies depending on severity but can include conservative treatments such as rest, exercise programs, or physical therapy with or without cortisone injections.

The physician will recommend this after a thorough exam, including X-rays and MRI scans. Labral Tear: The labrum stabilizes the head of the humerus from moving out of place at its most inferior point, where it meets with the glenoid fossa at your shoulder joint.

When this happens, people can experience persistent anterior pain, soreness that worsens during arm movements, and difficulty getting up from low positions like sitting on the floor.

AC Joint Tendonitis

There are many different types of shoulder pain, and one of them is AC joint tendonitis. This condition is a form of tendonitis that affects the AC joint, which is the joint between the clavicle and the acromion.

AC joint tendonitis can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the shoulder. The pain may be worse with activity, and it may be difficult to move the arm. This condition can be treated with rest, icing, and pain medication. Physical therapy may also be recommended.

AC joint tendonitis is a common type of shoulder pain, and it affects many people. If you think you may have this condition, it is important to see a doctor so that you can get the proper diagnosis and treatment.


Bursitis is a type of inflammation typically occurring due to overuse or injury. This condition causes swelling within the bursa sac that lines the shoulder joint. The bursa sac cushions bones, tendons, and muscles to reduce friction.

When it becomes inflamed, any movements involving the arm may become difficult and painful. You may suffer from bursitis if you have been experiencing pain in your shoulder after repetitive use or falling on your arm. Treatment includes rest, icing the affected area for 20 minutes every hour until there is no pain during movement.

Labral Tears (SLAP Tear)

Labral tears are another cause of shoulder-pain. A labrum is small circular cartilage on the dome or shoulder socket, providing stability to this area.

When someone has a labral tear, the cartilage has been damaged – often by overuse or an injury – causing instability and irritation. It can also be caused by age-related wear and tear.

A labral tear can be identified through diagnostic tests such as MRI or CT scans. The treatment for a labral tear may include surgery if the patient’s symptoms are worsening or if they do not improve with conservative treatments like physical therapy and cortisone injections.

Impingement Syndrome

A common cause of shoulder-pain is called impingement syndrome. Impingement syndrome occurs when the top, or superior, edge of the acromion – a bony process at the end of your scapula (shoulder blade) – projects into a narrow space in your rotator cuff tendons, causing pain.

Some people with this condition have reduced range of motion, inflammation, and painful nodules on their coracoacromial ligament. You can reduce your risk of developing this type of pain by avoiding overhead movements with heavy weights and strengthening your rotations muscles with exercises like front raises.


Regarding shoulder pain, it is essential to seek medical attention if you are experiencing intense pain or discomfort.

Warm or burning shoulder pain indicates a muscle injury, shooting (radiating) shoulder pain may be a sign of nerve damage, and sharp/dull aching might indicate arthritis. Once these conditions are identified, treatments are available for each type that can help reduce your experience of debilitating pain!

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