Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Shouldering the Pain

Pain in the shoulders, or even just one shoulder, can be nearly debilitating. The pain can be sharp with movement or a dull ache that gives the feeling of a “dead arm.” Discomfort is often present all day, especially at night. The pain often worsens when in common sleeping positions. Many individuals with shoulder pain report symptoms when lying on their backs, on their sides and on their stomachs. Obviously, pain that is present while you are trying to sleep prohibits a restful night.

Shoulder pain does not discriminate. It touches people of all ages, activity levels and occupations. It can strike a baseball pitcher in their teens or twenties, a sedentary office worker in their thirties, a construction worker in their forties, a recreational golfer in their fifties or a retiree in their sixties and up. Men and women are equally at risk for developing shoulder pain to varying degrees.

The injuries that cause shoulder pain can also have a wide range of severity. The pain can stem from a slight strain of a muscle due to overstretching or overuse to chronic tendinitis, arthritis or complete tear of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is the key to proper shoulder joint function, and the most commonly injured structure causing shoulder pain. The first step is to understand how the rotator cuff gets injured. This will lead to a strategy for preventing an incident.

Injury to the shoulder or rotator cuff generally start with either a single incident (acute onset) or repetitive trauma (chronic onset or overuse). Some of the most common acute causes are falling directly on the shoulder, falling on an outstretched arm, overstraining while lifting or performing high-speed movements, or overstretching with the arm in an awkward position, which can also cause a dislocation.

On the next page, learn about some of the most common shoulder injuries.