Shoulder pain: the different types and treatments

Shoulder pain can become quite restrictive after a while, affecting daily life and things like your work, and social and sporting activities. So regardless of whether you’ve been living with it, or it’s just come on recently, you’ll want to know what you can do about it.

What causes shoulder pain?

Our shoulders are quite complex, consisting of several joints, tendons and muscles. If you’re feeling pain in your shoulder it’s probably down to one of these causes:

Injuries and sprains

Injuries and sprains while playing sport, or if you’ve had a fall or lifted something a bit too heavy.

Dislocated shoulder

If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard of dislocated shoulders. Usually the result of an impact it can damage the ligaments (soft tissues that connect the bones) in your shoulder and weaken them, so they stop holding the bones in position.

Labral tear

Avid cricketers and athletes are at risk of overstraining shoulders with repetitive actions. Bowling or throwing actions can ‘tear’ the flexible tissue in your shoulder joint (the labrum).

Torn rotator cuff

Shoulder pain is often diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff. It’s the group of tendons and muscles that connect the bones and joints in your shoulder. Impact injuries such as a fall, or wear as we get older can cause a torn rotator cuff.

Fracture (broken bone)

Without getting too technical, a fracture of the proximal humerus (upper arm bone) the clavicle (collarbone) or the scapula (shoulder blade) is likely to cause immediate and fairly significant shoulder pain.


Where impact and injury are often responsible for shoulder pain that comes on quickly, arthritis can be the source of longer lasting shoulder pain.

Osteoarthritis: the cartilage in your shoulder can become worn or damaged and without this protective layer, your joints grind together causing pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis: because it causes joints to become swollen and stiff, if you have it, the joint and joint lining in your shoulder can become inflamed.


Types of shoulder pain

If you’re feeling pain in your shoulder then you’re probably going to be diagnosed with one of the following:

Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is so-called because the condition makes your shoulder difficult to move. The connective tissue enclosing the joint thickens, and becomes tight and inflamed and makes your shoulder stiff and painful.

Trapped nerve in shoulder

A trapped nerve happens when surrounding tissues compress or apply too much pressure on a nerve. If you’re feeling muscle weakness in your shoulder, or numbness and tingling in your hand or fingers then it could be a trapped nerve.

Bursitis shoulder

If your shoulder is swollen and painful, and there’s tenderness and warmth near the joint, you might have bursitis of the shoulder. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions between bones and soft tissue, reducing friction and it came become inflamed.

Shoulder impingement

If you think how swimmers or tennis players regularly make a forceful motion with their arms, you can imagine how the tendon might catch on tissue and bone as you lift your arm. This is shoulder impingement and can be the cause discomfort in your shoulder.


How to treat shoulder pain

If it’s an acute injury causing intense pain, you’ll need to seek medical treatment as quickly as possible. But if it’s something that has come on recently, you can alleviate shoulder pain yourself at home.

  • Try to rest the joint and avoid putting pressure on it – but do not completely stop using it.
  • Take painkillers to ease the pain – but read the instructions first.
  • Place cold/warm compresses against the area.
  • Support the joint while you sleep with extra cushions.
  • Avoid movements that worsen the pain.
  • Concentrate on your posture – for example, avoid slouching when sitting.

If the pain doesn’t ease off within a couple of weeks it’s time to see a doctor. Your GP will examine you and diagnose what’s causing the pain. They might send you for imaging tests, such as an x-ray, CT scan , or MRI scan to get more detailed images of the area around your shoulder.


You might find you’re referred for physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist will give you a series of exercises to do regularly to improve the range of motion and strength in your shoulder.

Steroid injection

It sounds a bit daunting but don’t be put off. It’s quite common to be given a steroid injection to reduce swelling and relieve the pain in your shoulder. It is only a short-term fix lasting up to a couple of months, but if you’re lucky, your shoulder will heal before it wears off.


Most of the time your symptoms will improve with rest and gentle exercise, but if that’s not the case then your doctor can refer you to see an orthopaedic surgeon that specialises in joints and bones.

If you’re offered surgery then the outlook is positive following a period of rehabilitation to regain the strength and mobility in your shoulder. You should then be able to return to the activities you enjoyed before.


How to prevent shoulder pain

They’re one of the most used joints in our body so it’s hardly surprising we can experience shoulder pain through wear and tear or injury.

Here’s some tips and advice for keeping your shoulder healthy:

  • Listen to your body and if your shoulder starts to ache when you’re doing something, try and stop or take breaks to give the shoulder a rest.
  • Watch your posture, and practice safe lifting, at home and work.
  • Exercise with regular and gentle movement of your shoulders and arms
  • Avoid straining to reach or lifting objects that are too heavy
  • Maintain a healthy diet and nutrition as often as possible

You can use your cover to pay for your shoulder pain treatment

If you have health insurance in place and you develop shoulder pain you'll be able to get it looked at quickly and easily.

The first step is to get a referral from your GP, or through our Digital GP app^. Then you can make a claim through MyAviva, over the phone, or online.

If we confirm that your claim meets the terms of your policy, we’ll pay for the treatment directly. Just be sure to tell us if you need more tests or treatment, or if your hospital or specialist changes. 

It’s good to have one less thing to worry about. It takes Aviva. 

^ These services are non-contractual and can be withdrawn or amended by Aviva at any time

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