Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Galland talks about causes of shoulder pain in the absence of other symptoms.

“Shoulder pain, in the absence of any other symptoms, is most commonly caused by a rotator cuff tear or tendonitis, bursitis, or osteoarthritis,” says Dr. Galland, orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist and physician at Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina.

The Rotator Cuff

Four muscles and their tendons that form a “cuff” about the shoulder joint, allowing for multiple ranges of motion.

These muscles are stabilizers to larger, more force-producing muscles such as the deltoids and latissimus dorsi.


Inflammation of the tendons. In the case of shoulder pain, the tendons involve the rotator cuff.


Inflammation of the bursa, sac-like structures in the shoulder joint.


Inflammation and wearing down of the cartilage that provides shock absorption between bones.

“When the shoulder pain is accompanied by numbness or tingling into the arm or hand, this strongly indicates a pinched nerve in the neck.

“Sometimes shoulder problems in and of themselves can cause numbness to occur, but it is more often indicative of a problem in the neck.”

A rare cause of shoulder pain when there aren’t any other symptoms is a tumor of the lung.

The lungs sit beneath the shoulder nerves. If the tumor is pressing on one of these nerves, pain can result.

But realize that this is very rare, especially if it’s not accompanied by other symptoms such as persistent cough, shortness of breath, undue fatigue or unexplained weight loss.

Dr. Galland has authored many book chapters and papers in sports medicine. His advice and consultation have been sought by world-class athletes in track and field and Major League Baseball.
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. 


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