Shoulder pain


Four weeks ago, I fell hard on my shoulder, with soreness and limited motion coming on. Two weeks later, I reinjured it again, with same results. It hurt most raising it above my head and trying to turn over in bed. It is better now, but I have a popping noise in it when moving it around. I have more range than before, but still the occasional sharp pain and popping noise.

Please advise.

Thank you,

Dear Mike, 

Shoulder injuries can be a real...pain in the shoulder! Not only is it painful, but it also impairs the ability to complete daily tasks in familiar ways. Given the pain and noises you’ve described, it’s recommended that you talk with a medical professional so they can provide a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Other symptoms that may warrant a visit with your health care provider include: 

  • Pain that doesn’t go away or grows worse over time 

  • Pain accompanied by swelling, discoloration, or a feeling of pressure  

  • Pain that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep 

  • Pain that doesn’t improve with at-home treatments like icing, heating, or anti-inflammatory medicines  

During the initial appointment, your health care provider, will likely perform a physical exam and ask you some questions about the nature of your injury. You may be asked, for example, how much the pain impacts your daily life, how much you are able to move your shoulder, or what type of pain you are experiencing (stabbing, dull, achey, etc.) If the health care provider can’t determine what is causing your pain from a physical examination alone, they may want to use other techniques such as x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with blood testing to provide further insight. 

Some of the possible shoulder injuries you could be dealing with include: 

  • A partially dislocated or unstable joint: Without treatment to place or pop your shoulder back into its proper position, you could experience a complete shoulder dislocation. Furthermore, leaving your shoulder joint in an abnormal position places stress on the other supporting and neighboring structures, possibly causing complications, such as nerve injury, injury to the blood vessels in the area, a frozen shoulder, or arthritis of the shoulder joint. 

  • A rotator cuff injury: The rotator cuff is the complex band of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the shoulder joint. Injury to any or all of these structures usually causes pain and decreased shoulder mobility. 

  • A frozen shoulder: When a shoulder injury or condition causes pain and decreases movement of the joint, scar tissue can grow within the joint area, further restricting movement. This can be the start of a cycle of pain that leads to further difficulty moving your shoulder. 

If left untreated, each of these conditions can cause either temporary or permanent symptoms, and chronic or recurring issues. That being said, each of these conditions can also be effectively treated, so you may want to consult your health care provider sooner rather than later to avoid further complications and to regain as much range of motion as possible and as quickly as possible. 

Treatment will depend on the specific type and severity of the shoulder injury. Some  remedies your health care provider might recommend include: 

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium 

  • Application of ice 

  • Use of heating pads 

  • Special strengthening exercises 

  • Consultation with a physical therapist for specialized treatments, such as ultrasound 

  • Massage, from a licensed massage therapist or a physical therapist 

  • Steroid injection at the joint 

  • A period of immobilization in a sling 

  • Surgical repair of damaged structures 

  • As a last resort, a complete shoulder replacement 

Sometimes people downplay their pain or decreased range of motion until the injury begins to seem like their normal state. However, that doesn't have to be your reality. Though recovery takes time and consistent dedication, it's likely you'll see improvement once you receive proper treatment for your specific injury. Every person’s body is different, so you may need more or less time to feel better. Being patient and allowing the recovery process to proceed at your natural pace will ensure that you don’t put more strain on your shoulder. Finally, maintaining a positive mental attitude while you recover is said to be beneficial. It might be a good idea to focus on things other than your injury and surround yourself with people who support you. Here’s to a speedy recovery! 

All the best, 

Last updated Dec 23, 2022
Originally published Apr 02, 2004

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