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When to Seek Treatment for Shoulder Pain

Even minor shoulder injuries can be painful enough to affect your daily activities and quality of life.

It may hurt when you scratch your back, or you may not be able to lift more than a few pounds. But a painful shoulder doesn’t have to cramp your style.

The most flexible joint in the body, your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint with muscles and tendons that allow you to have an incredible range of arm movement and rotation. But the same characteristics that make your shoulder such a marvel also increases your risk for injury.

In fact, shoulders are the body’s most commonly injured joint.

Depending on your injury, it may heal on its own, or you may need treatment by an orthopedic specialist to relieve pain, restore range of motion and get you back to your usual daily activities. It’s not always easy to know the extent or type of shoulder injury without consulting with your doctor.

A physical exam and imaging tests, like X-rays or CT scans, are often needed for an accurate diagnosis.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can be acute (sudden) or chronic (develop over time) and result from work or sports activities, traumatic injury, overuse or the wear and tear of daily living. Causes may include:

  • Arthritis: Inflammation caused by bone-on-bone contact in the joint.
  • Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that lubricates and protects your shoulder muscle.
  • Dislocation: When the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) pops out of the socket.
  • Fractures: Breaks of the upper arm, collar bone or shoulder blade.
  • Rotator cuff tears: Either a partial or full-thickness tear of the rotator cuff muscle, which holds your shoulder ball and socket together.

When to Get Treatment 

Early detection is the key to managing shoulder injuries. That’s why it’s important to know when you can wait out an injury to see if it will heal on its own and when it’s time to see a doctor. You should see a doctor when you’re experiencing:

  • Redness around your shoulder joint
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness and a warm feeling around your shoulder joint 

Injuries and conditions that require or benefit from orthopedic care include: 


Arthritis develops over time as the tissue around your shoulder joint wears out, as in osteoarthritis or post-traumatic arthritis, which results from injury. If you have joint pain or stiffness, a doctor can help develop a treatment plan that suits your needs. 

Fractured or Dislocated Shoulder

Fractured or dislocated shoulders require immediate treatment for proper healing. Symptoms include severe pain, loss of use, swelling and bruising. Fractured bones may be at odd angles, while a dislocated shoulder may look deformed.

Broken bones may require a cast or surgery to repair and can take weeks or months to heal. One of our orthopedic specialists can put your dislocated shoulder back in place — normally without surgery or a cast — and stop your severe pain almost immediately. 

Rotator Cuff Tear 

If you think you have a rotator cuff issue, a doctor can determine the extent of your injury. Some rotator cuff tears can heal on their own while others require surgery. Ignoring and getting used to chronic pain can cause more damage, requiring more extensive surgery or even shoulder replacement to repair.

Don’t Let Shoulder Pain Get You Down 

Call Tanner’s free, 24-hour physician referral line at 770-214-CARE (2273) or select “Find a Provider” at tanner.org to make an appointment today. To learn more about Tanner Ortho and Spine Center, visit TannerOrtho.org. 

If you have shoulder pain that develops with difficulty breathing or tightness in your chest, you may be having a heart attack. Call 911 immediately.

Tanner Medical Group

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