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What causes shoulder pain?

Most shoulder problems will only affect a small area and are fairly short-lived. There are several possible causes, including:

  • inflammation or damage to the muscles and tendons around the shoulder
  • tension in the muscles between the neck and shoulder (common in people with poor upper back or neck posture, often linked to their work)
  • inflammation in the sac of soft tissue (bursa) that normally allows the muscles and tendons to slide smoothly over the shoulder bones
  • damage to the bones and cartilage, which can be caused by arthritis.

Referred pain

Shoulder pain isn’t always caused by a problem in your shoulder joint. For example, problems in your neck can cause pain over your shoulder blade or in your upper outer arm. This is known as referred pain.

If you have shoulder pain and a tingling sensation in your arm or hand, this is also more likely to be caused by a problem in your neck.


Sometimes shoulder pain may be part of a general condition such as:

Rheumatoid arthritis quite often affects the shoulders. Osteoarthritis is less likely to affect the shoulders than other joints, but it can sometimes follow on from previous shoulder injuries.


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