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Shoulder pain or tenderness

A pain scale is a way for people to measure their pain so that health professionals can help plan how best to control it. Most pain scales use numbers from 0 to 10: 0 means no pain and 10 means the worst pain the person has known or felt. Use the list below to find the number that best describes your pain.

  • 0 = No pain
  • 1 to 5 = Mild pain
  • 6 to 7 = Moderate pain
  • 8 to 9 = Severe pain
  • 10 = Worst pain possible

Shoulder pain with movement or tenderness to the touch may occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often by overdoing an activity or through repetition of an activity. You may not recall having a specific injury, especially if symptoms began gradually or during everyday activities. Pain or tenderness often goes away when you try home treatment and take a break from the activity that caused the pain.

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The most common causes of shoulder pain or tenderness include:

  • Inflammation of the sac of fluid that cushions and lubricates the joint area between one bone and another bone, a tendon, or the skin (bursitis).
  • Inflammation of the tough, ropelike fibers that connect muscles to bones (tendinitis). Bicipital tendinitis is an inflammation of one of the tendons that attach the muscle (biceps) on the front of the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder joint. The inflammation usually occurs along the groove (bicipital groove) where the tendon passes over the humerus to attach just above the shoulder joint.
  • Muscle strain.
  • A frozen shoulder, a condition that limits shoulder movement that may follow an injury.
  • Overhead arm movements, which may cause tendons to rub or scrape against a part of the shoulder blade called the acromion. This rubbing or scraping may lead to abrasion or inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons (also called impingement syndrome).

Less common causes of shoulder pain include:

  • Muscle tension or poor posture.
  • Pain that is coming from somewhere else in your body (referred shoulder pain).
  • Breakdown of the cartilage that protects and cushions the shoulder joints (osteoarthritis).
  • Calcium buildup in the tendons of the shoulder.
  • An irritated or pinched nerve or a herniated disc in the neck.
  • Infection in the skin (cellulitis), joint (infectious arthritis), bursa (septic bursitis), or bone (osteomyelitis).
  • Invasive cancer that has spread to the bones of the shoulder or spine.
  • Abuse. Any shoulder injury (especially a dislocated shoulder) that cannot be explained, does not match the explanation, or occurs repeatedly may be caused by abuse.
Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John G. Kloss, MD - Orthopedic Surgery and Fractures, Hand and Microvascular Surgery
Last Updated September 19, 2009

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 19, 2009
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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