Shoulder pain common causes

25% of Australians over the age of 20 will experience pain in the shoulder during their lifetime (2) and up to 67% may suffer from shoulder pain by the time they are 70 (3).

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body (1) and therefore a number of factors may contribute to the pain you are experiencing.

Managing pain in the shoulder can be difficult as it can limit range of motion and prevent you from completing activities of daily living, such as hanging out the washing and washing your hair (1).

To effectively manage your pain, we must recognise the primary cause, as well as other contributing factors.

Common causes of shoulder pain can be broken down into 4 major categories (5)

    • Inflammation
    • Instability
    • Arthritis
    • Fractures (4)                                                   


  • Many structures surrounding the joint can become inflamed and cause pain.
  • Trauma, repetitive actions and positioning issues can cause impingement of the shoulder and subsequently cause surrounding structures to become inflamed. 
  • Structures surrounding the shoulder that may become inflamed include muscle tendons, bursae and joint capsule. (6).


  • Often a result of structures within the shoulder being torn, stretched or even detached from the bone (7). 
  • Examples of risk factors include dislocations and strenuous load activities such as throwing.


  • Caused by damage to the surrounding cartilage of the shoulder.
  • In turn, the joint begins to wear down and can result in decreased range of motion, discomfort and increased stiffness (8).


  • Caused by direct trauma to the shoulder joint.
  • The most common causes of shoulder fractures include car accidents and sports injuries, with a broken clavicle being the main source of shoulder pain (9).

One other form of shoulder doesn’t actually originate from the joint, and that is cervical radiculopathy. Majority of the nerve roots from the neck all pass through the shoulder and if compressed or irritated, may refer pain or weakness into the shoulder(10). 

Suffering from a shoulder related injury?

Osteopaths are trained to assess, diagnose, treat and then manage a range of shoulder injuries.

Book in today with one of our team members to see how we can help alleviate your pain!


(1) Why Does My Shoulder Hurt? [Internet]. Healthline. 2020 [cited 28 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/shoulder-pain

(2)  HILL C, GILL T, SHANAHAN E, TAYLOR A. Prevalence and correlates of shoulder pain and stiffness in a population-based study: the North West Adelaide Health Study. International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases. 2010;13(3):215-222.

(3) Ackerman I, Page R, Fotis K, Schoch P, Broughton N, Brennan-Olsen S et al. Exploring the personal burden of shoulder pain among younger people in Australia: protocol for a multicentre cohort study. BMJ Open. 2018;8(7).

(4) Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems – OrthoInfo – AAOS [Internet]. Orthoinfo.aaos.org. 2020 [cited 28 August 2020]. Available from: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/shoulder-pain-and-common-shoulder-problems/

(5) 1. Wilson C. [Internet]. 2015 [cited 28 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.shoulder-pain-explained.com/shoulder-pain-causes.html

(6) Frost A, Michael Robinson C. The painful shoulder. Surgery (Oxford). 2006;24(11):363-367.

(7) Shoulder Instability [Internet]. 2020 [cited 28 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/shoulder-instability

(8) Shoulder Arthritis [Internet]. 2020 [cited 28 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/shoulder-arthritis

(9) Nordqvist A, Petersson C. Incidence and causes of shoulder girdle injuries in an urban population. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. 1995;4(2):107-112.

(10) Brian Subach M. Could That Shoulder Pain Really Stem From the Neck? [Internet]. Spine-health. 2020 [cited 28 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/could-shoulder-pain-really-stem-neck