Why does my shoulder hurt?

Do you experience pain in the shoulders when reaching up high? Do you feel shoulder pain when pushing or pulling an object? Does your shoulder pain keep you from sleeping comfortably on your side? This article discusses some causes of shoulder pain.

All you need to know about the shoulder joint:

The shoulder joint is formed by the joining of the humerus bone (upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collar bone). The stability of the joint is provided by the various muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissue structures around the joint. The shoulder joint is actually the most flexible joint in the body, providing movement in numerous directions. The shoulder joint also has sacs called bursa that provide cushioning between the bones and muscles. The main group of muscles at the shoulder joint are called the rotator cuff muscles. The deltoid muscle forms the round shape of the shoulder, and works to raise the shoulder at the side.

Symptoms of an injured shoulder joint:

  • Pain reaching overhead
  • Pain lifting, pushing, or pulling items
  • Limited movement at the joint
  • Stiffness at the joint
  • Feeling of locking or catching sensation in the joint
  • Weakness at the shoulder
  • Pain sleeping on the injured shoulder

Common shoulder injuries:

Joint Dislocations are common in contact sports such as football and hockey. This occurs when the bone “pops out” of the socket due to excessive movement or a strong blow to the joint. The joint will likely appear deformed, and will begin to swell. There will be intense pain and an inability to move the joint. You may also experience numbness and tingling in the arm and hand. This type of injury requires immediate treatment at an emergency department of a hospital.

Muscle and tendon injuries usually occur from overusing the shoulder or from trauma. Tendon injuries often occur from repetitive movements of the shoulder. Injuries to the rotator cuff muscles or tendons are quite common and cause pain with overhead tasks and pain sleeping on the injured shoulder.

Arthritis at the shoulder is the result of wear and tear of the cartilage in the shoulder joint. Symptoms of arthritis include pain, stiffness, and a “crackling” noise at the joint.

Other shoulder injuries include bursitis, frozen shoulder, fractures, and shoulder separation.

Relief of shoulder pain:

Before treatment and rehabilitation can begin, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. In addition to a physical examination and a thorough understanding of your symptoms, you may be referred for additional tests such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRI studies. Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries of the spine, muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and nerves.  A correct diagnosis is important to rule out more serious conditions that may be causing your pain and symptoms. The focus of the treatment is to reduce pain, restore flexibility and strength, return you to regular activities, and prevent a reoccurrence of the injury.

Your treatment by a Chiropractor may also include:

  • Chiropractic treatments for the shoulder to improve flexibility and strength of the muscles and ligaments, and restore proper movement to the joint. Therapeutic Laser therapy is a useful device that works to reduce inflammation and pain, and allow the patient to start the exercise portion of the rehabilitation program. Cold therapy (ice) can be helpful in the initial stages of inflammation to reduce the pain and swelling. Heat application can soothe tight muscles and help with flexibility exercises.
  • The addition of massage therapy and physiotherapy to your rehab program may aid in pain relief and speed up the healing process.
  • Modifications at home: Using a pillow between the arm and your body may help you sleep more comfortably at night. Your chiropractor can advise you on other ergonomic modifications, based on your injury, to help you return to your daily activities.


Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for spine, muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at totalhealth@bellnet.ca

Stop the Pain … Before the Pain Stops You!