Chronic Shoulder Pain

Shoulder Pain

What is shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain is common. Sometimes, it occurs in an acute manner, such as in a sports injury or when it becomes dislocated. Other times, it comes and goes, such as when people have bursitis. Sometimes, it lasts longer. Tendinitis can continue for some time but can usually be improved with care. In most cases of chronic shoulder pain, it is due to osteoarthritis.  


If you have a new onset of pain in your shoulder, it is important to have it evaluated by a healthcare provider. Many acute conditions can be successfully treated. Some conditions, however, are chronic.


The most common causes of chronic shoulder pain are tendinitis and osteoarthritis.  


Tendinitis is inflammation of the tendons, which are connective tissues that connects muscle to bones, and the bursa, which are fluid-filled sacs that cushion joints. The most common form of tendonitis in the shoulder is rotator cuff tendonitis.  


Sometimes, the rotator cuff tendons can tear when overused or as a result of injury. This condition is called a ‘rotator cuff tear.’


Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis.  It is a pain condition marked by inflammation of the joints. The inflammation causes pain, swelling, and stiffness.  


Osteoarthritis might best be considered the result of general wear and tear. It can occur from injuries, overuse, and age. It results from a loss of cartilage, which ordinarily provides cushioning for the bones in the joints.  The loss of cartilage causes inflammation when the shoulder is used. In turn, the inflammation leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness. 


Is there a cure for shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain that occurs as a result of tendonitis or tendon tears can often be resolved with appropriate treatment.  


When due to osteoarthritis, shoulder pain is a chronic condition. Typically, chronic health conditions are also conditions that have no cure and last indefinitely. 


Therapies & procedures for shoulder pain

Therapies for shoulder pain due to tendonitis or tendon tears can often be resolved with the use of physical therapy, steroid injections, and/or surgeries. Of course, even when largely resolved with treatment, the shoulder rarely returns to a state of being ‘as good as new.’ A return to full use of the shoulder is a goal, but some appropriate limits may have to be observed.


Therapies for shoulder pain due to osteoarthritis are not cures. Rather, the goals of therapy are to reduce pain and to reduce impairment. In our healthcare system, patients can commonly get many different therapies and procedures for chronic shoulder pain due osteoarthritis. Common treatments are anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, cortisone injections, and chronic pain rehabilitation programs.



Murray J. McAllister, PsyD, is the executive director of the Institute for Chronic Pain. The Institute for Chronic Pain is an educational and public policy think tank. Its purpose is to bring together thought leaders from around the world in the field of chronic pain rehabilitation and provide academic-quality information that is also approachable to all the stakeholders in the field: patients, their families, generalist healthcare providers, third party payers, and public policy analysts. Its aim is to change the culture of how chronic pain is managed through education and consultation efforts that advocate for the use of empirically supported conceptualizations and treatments of chronic pain. He also blogs at the Institute for Chronic Pain Blog.


Last Updated on Monday, 26 October 2015 00:19

Published on Friday, 27 April 2012 13:42

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