COVID-19 Resources & Information | Testing | Vaccination | Visitor Policy and Hours
View All Services
Find a New Primary Care Provider
Search by Specialty
View All Locations
Discover classes, events, tours, and groups that fit your interests.
Home > Be Healthy > Health Library > Shoulder Problems and Injuries
Minor shoulder problems, such as sore muscles and aches and pains, are common. Shoulder problems develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or an injury. They can also be caused by the natural process of aging.
Your shoulder joints move every time you move your arms. To better understand shoulder problems and injuries, you may want to learn more about the shoulder joint itself. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. It has three main bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), the collarbone (clavicle), and the shoulder blade (scapula). These bones are held together by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The shoulder joint has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. Because of this mobility, the shoulder is more likely to be injured or cause problems. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which lies over the top of the shoulder, is also easily injured.
Shoulder problems can be minor or serious. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness, changes in temperature or color, and changes in your range of motion. Shoulder injuries most often occur during sports activities, work-related tasks, projects around the home, or falls. Home treatment often can help relieve minor aches and pains.
Injuries are the most common cause of shoulder pain.
A sudden (acute) injury may occur from a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the shoulder, or abnormal twisting or bending of the shoulder. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may occur soon after the injury. Sometimes nerves or blood vessels may be injured or pinched during the injury. In that case, the shoulder, arm, or hand may feel numb, tingly, weak, or cold, or it may look pale or blue. Acute injuries include:
You may not recall having a specific injury, especially if symptoms began slowly or during everyday activities. Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue. This often happens when you overdo or repeat an activity. Overuse injuries include:
Overuse and acute injuries are common causes of shoulder symptoms. Less common causes include:
Treatment for a shoulder injury may include first aid, physical therapy, and medicine. In some cases, surgery is needed. Treatment depends on:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and this change does not go away.
Symptoms of infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Pain in adults and older children
Major trauma is any event that can cause very serious injury, such as:
With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:
With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:
With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Most minor shoulder problems will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that's needed. But if you think that you might have a more severe problem, use first aid until you can be seen by a doctor.
Try the following tips to help relieve shoulder pain, swelling, and stiffness.
It's important to rest and protect the affected area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness.
Ice will reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice or cold packs right away to prevent or reduce swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. Prop up the area on pillows while you apply ice and anytime you sit or lie down.
For 48 hours, wear a sling if it makes you more comfortable and supports your shoulder.
For 48 hours, avoid things that might increase swelling. These things include hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, and drinks that contain alcohol.
After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat. You can start gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and keep flexibility. Some experts advise switching between heat and cold treatments.
Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Don't massage the affected area if it causes pain.
Try bending forward at the waist and let your affected arm hang straight down. Move your hips and legs, and let that motion gently swing your arm back and forth.
Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
If you need to use a sling for more than 48 hours, you may have a more serious injury that needs to be checked by a doctor.
Most injuries are not caused by abuse. But bruises are often the first sign of possible abuse. Suspect physical abuse of a child or vulnerable adult when:
You may be able to prevent further injuries by reporting abuse. Seek help if:
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.