Shoulder pain is one of the most common problems that affects not only the poorly conditioned but also fitness enthusiasts, recreational athletes and professional athletes.

“The majority of shoulder pain is related to the rotator cuff,” says Jessalynn Adam, MD, who specializes in primary care sports medicine with OrthoVirginia.

“Rotator cuff injuries and problems include impingement, tendinosis (overuse/wear and tear), bursitis/bursopathy, and acute or degenerative tears,” explains Dr. Adam.

Pain in the shoulder can also be caused by life threatening situations such as a heart attack or lung cancer. But don’t panic.

Because, again, the vast majority of shoulder pain is caused by a musculoskeletal problem involving either the rotator cuff, cartilage, bursa or major muscles in that area.

What is the rotator cuff?

It’s a group of four muscles and their tendons. It’s a site of frequent injury or strain. Some people suffer a tear at some location of their rotator cuff requiring surgery.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Strain or Impingement

Quite classically, the pain radiates to the side of the upper arm, even though that is not the site of the actual strain or impingement.

There is often pain as the person is trying to slip a hand into a coat or jacket pocket, or reach behind them from the driver’s seat to retrieve something from the back seat.

The patient may report that it hurts to raise the arm straight up at the sides, especially if in the process they turn their wrist forward so that the palm is facing backward.

Overhead motions may also hurt. Usually, pulling motions, such as holding — with a bent arm — onto the leash of a large dog that’s trying to walk faster than you, do not hurt.

Physical therapy is the treatment of choice, along with avoiding the offending movements.

A worsening pain in this joint that does not improve with rest is cause for concern.

Dr. Adam specializes in the care of athletes and active individuals of all ages, offering prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sports and exercise injuries. Dr. Adam’s care focuses on muscle injuries and biomechanics. 
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.