Why Does Your Shoulder Hurt?

Before you start looking at specific reasons for your shoulder pain it is important to first understand why your shoulder is susceptible to injury and disease. Your shoulder is an amazing joint that allows you an incredibly wide range of motion.   This range of motion is extremely beneficial but it comes at a price; decreased stability. Since the shoulder is so unstable, often the bones, muscle, and tissue of the shoulder are damaged while they try to support your arm during all of the movement it endures.

How A Shoulder Works

Your shoulder is a complex ball and socket joint made up of many bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The three bones that comprise the shoulder joint are the humorous, scapula and clavicle. The ball portion of the joint is situated on top of the humorous bone and then sits inside the socket of the scapula.  Supporting the joint are ligaments, which connect the separate bones to each other. Motion is caused by the tendons, which tie together the bones and muscles.  There are a group of tendons that hold the ball into the socket called the rotator cuff. The bursae are the sacks that provide cushioning to the joint and allow for the motion to be fluid and easy.


There are many types of injuries that can cause damage to the shoulder joint. These can be sudden and traumatic injuries as well as long term wear and tear. These include:

  • Shoulder separation – torn ligaments which allow the clavicle to move out of place
  • Shoulder dislocation – the shoulder ball is forced out of the socket
  • Sternoclavicle separation – the sternum and clavicle separate
  • Rotator cuff tear – The tendons of the rotator cuff become torn
  • Tendinitis – inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder
  • Bursitis – the bursae can become inflamed
  • Impingent – inflammation of the tendons causing the tendons to become trapped in the joint
  • SLAP tears – the shoulder’s tears caused by trauma or repetitive motions, especially by athletes.
  • Breaks or fractures – any of the bones involved with the usually pain free movement of the shoulder can be broken or cracked


There are a few diseases which can cause the shoulder to experience pain, the most common of which is arthritis. Arthritis can be caused by the normal use of the joint over time.  There are two main types of arthritis usually found in the shoulder:  arthritis of the shoulder joint and arthritis of the AC joint.  The cartilage in the socket being lost through normal wear and tear, surgery, inflammation, infection, or injury are the primary causes of arthritis of the shoulder. AC joint arthritis occurs when a small piece of cartilage near the clavicle is reduced in size or disappears via normal use or injury.

Another ailment commonly associated with disease, but also associated with shoulder surgery, is frozen shoulder syndrome. A frozen shoulder occurs when the joint experiences restricted movement and sometimes severe pain. The lack of motion is caused by unusual tissue growth restricting the space available for motion and displaces the lubricating fluid usually seen surrounding the shoulder joint.

How To Help Your Pain

It is always best to see a physician to diagnose the specific cause of your shoulder pain. Since many of the possible causes may feel similar, treating yourself at home is inadvisable. Your physician may give you exercises or other treatments you can perform at home, but he may also prescribe surgery or medication to alleviate the pain. Find one of IBJI’s Chicago area orthopedic physicians to get your shoulder pain diagnosed and to start the healing process.

This information is not intended to provide advise or treatment for a specific situation. Consult your physician and medical team for information and treatment plans on your specific condition(s).