Healthy shoulders are something most of us take for granted. Unless you are a baseball or softball pitcher or competitive swimmer, or work in an occupation that requires a lot of repetitive lifting or overhead reaching activities, you probably haven’t ever really experienced significant shoulder pain.

If this is the case, count yourself among the fortunate. Shoulder problems, left untreated, can be painful, and eventually lead to decreased upper body mobility.

Causes and Symptoms of Shoulder Pain

Pain in the shoulder usually occurs in an area called the rotator cuff (i.e., the muscles and tendons that cover the top of your upper arm bone and attach it to your shoulder blade) and can be mild to severe. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, pain in the rotator cuff area may be a result of:

Tendinitis. The rotator cuff tendons can be irritated or damaged.
Bursitis. The bursa can become inflamed and swell with more fluid causing pain.
Impingement. When you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion and rotator cuff narrows. The acromion can rub against (or “impinge” on) the tendon and the bursa, causing irritation and pain.

The AAOS describes symptoms as follows:

Rotator cuff pain commonly causes local swelling and tenderness in the front of the shoulder. You may have pain and stiffness when you lift your arm. There may also be pain when the arm is lowered from an elevated position.

Beginning symptoms may be mild. Patients frequently do not seek treatment at an early stage. These symptoms may include:

Minor pain that is present both with activity and at rest
Pain radiating from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm
Sudden pain with lifting and reaching movements