3 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain + How to Help

By Steve Kravitz, PT, DPT, CST

Pain and discomfort in your shoulder can make picking up something easy seem difficult, but it shouldn't have to be. Your shoulder has a wide and versatile range of motion, so when something goes wrong it affects your ability to move freely, ultimately causing a great deal of pain and discomfort. It is the most mobile joint in your body.

Think of your shoulder as a ball-and-socket. It has three parts: the humerus bone, the clavicle, and the scapula. To simplify things, your humerus bone is the long arm bone, your clavicle is your collarbone, and your scapula is also known as your shoulder blade. Shoulders get their range of motion from the rotator cuff, which is made up of four tendons. These tendons are the tissues that connect your muscles to your bones, so you may have experienced pain or difficulty lifting your arm over your head if the tendons or bones around your rotator cuff are damaged or swollen. Depending on the cause, these symptoms may start suddenly and go away or it may increase gradually.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

There are a number of factors that can influence shoulder pain, although the most common is rotator cuff tendonitis. In some cases, shoulder pain is the outcome of an injury to another location in your body, typically in the neck or upper back.

3 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain:

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Your rotator cuff consists of a group of four muscles and their tendons that surround your shoulder joint, and connect your shoulder blade to your upper arm bone. Problems can occur through overuse, including tendonitis strains and partial and complete tears of the tendon. When the rotator cuff tendon becomes inflamed and irritated, this is known as tendonitis and when the bursa swells in your shoulder it’s called bursitis. Both tendonitis and bursitis cause you to feel pain in the front and side of your shoulder, which may create stiffness and decreased range of motion.

Rotator Cuff Tears

Patients who have felt pain at night that prohibits them from falling or staying asleep may have a tear in one or more of his or her rotator cuff tendons. Having trouble lifting your arm above you or experiencing weakness in your shoulder while attempting to lift anything above shoulder level is a sign of a potential tear. This can happen from any type of single event that ranges from falling down or just out stretching your arm. Unfortunately, this may also result from a motion that may be repeated frequently over time.


Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage deteriorates, causing pain and stiffness to be felt. Cartilage is the cushioning material that covers the ends of your bones. Patients who experience osteoarthritis describe symptoms as a deep ache in the back of his or her shoulder. Some of these patients have lost the ability to reach behind their back as well. These symptoms can develop overtime and can be as a result of an old injury that begins the degenerative process or can have no specific cause other then general wear and tear over the years.

How to Treat It

Physical Therapy can be very helpful in treating your shoulder pain. By helping you identify and avoid movements that are contributing to your pain, I am able to use manual therapy techniques such as gentle joint movements, soft-tissue massage, and shoulder stretches to help your shoulder begin to move properly. It’s a natural process for the human body to undergo stress and strain, which helps explain why tissues in your body tighten, contract, and distort and create restriction. The goal of physical therapy is to focus on improving your body’s mobility and the use of affected joints, as well as increasing strength to support your joints. By using a blend of Osteopathic based techniques along with Physical Therapy, I work with my hands to help maximize mobility, develop or restore function, alleviate pain, and promote overall health and wellness.

Along with Physical Therapy, these everyday exercises can help relieve your shoulder pain below. If you feel pain, numbness, and/or any discomfort while doing these exercises, stop the exercise and consult a physical therapist or doctor.

Pec Stretch:

A common cause for rounded shoulders can be due to tight pectoral muscles. This pec stretch can open up your chest and improve breathing and prevent shoulder impingement, which happens when your tendon rubs on your shoulder blade causing discomfort.

Pec Stretch 2.jpg

IR Stretch:

Lack of internal rotation in our shoulders can create pain and discomfort to be felt in the shoulder area. You may notice this when reaching behind your back or lifting weights a certain way while at the gym.

IR Stretch.jpg

Lat Stretch:

Your lat is a muscle that crosses multiple joints, so tightness in any one of these areas can affect the attachment to your shoulder. This stretch can not only relieve shoulder pain, but it can also help improve mid and lower back mobility.

Lat Stretch.jpg

Bicep Stretch:

Your bicep is another muscle that crosses between multiple joints. For those of you who type on a computer for hours at a time, this stretch can help relieve some tension and reverse the effects of being in a shortened position all day. This stretch also opens up the wrist space. Please stop this stretch if you feel numbness, tingling, and/or pain.

bicep stretch.jpg

Steve Kravitz Physical Therapy provides a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare in order to ensure the highest quality care for patients in Nashville, Tennessee and New York, New York. Treatments are a unique, personalized approach to Physical Therapy which has been developed over twenty years to aid in ultimate pain relief.

To schedule an appointment or to learn more about what other services Steve Kravitz Physical Therapy provides, contact us or read more on our blog.

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