Most shoulder problems are due to one of the problems below:


  • Rotator Cuff
    This is the most common cause of shoulder pain in adults from age 30 and up. Rotator cuff problems begin with simple tendonitis or bursitis, then progress to tears of the rotator cuff as pain becomes worse. Rotator cuff tendonitis is also known as impingement syndrome. As rotator cuff problems become more severe, the muscles become thin and progress to a rotator cuff tear.

  • Instability
    More common in younger patients, this is the sensation of the shoulder coming out of socket. Sometimes this entails dislocations, where the head completely pops out of the socket. Other times, instability causes "subluxations" which are partial dislocations. Often, the patient may not know that their shoulder is subluxating, and feel only pain.






  • Fracture
    Fractures of the shoulder (humerus and clavicle are most common), can happen in people of all ages and are often very painful. They sometimes require surgery






  • Arthritis
    In the shoulder, arthritis is much less common than in other joints, such as the knee or hip. Arthritis of the ball and socket of the shoulder joint is usually seen in people more than 40 years old. Arthritis of the AC joint (bump on top of shoulder) is often seen in patients who are in their mid-twenties (if they have had previous injuries) or older.





  • Stiffness
    The shoulder can become stiff for many reasons, including rotator cuff problems, diabetes, and arthritis. This is also known as adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder.




How do you know which one of these disorders you have? Your doctor — often with a combination of physical examination and x-rays (and sometimes fancier tests like MRI) — is usually able to make the diagnosis easily. Often, just a simple description of your symptoms can demonstrate the diagnosis. Click Previous for more information on symptoms of shoulder problems, or click Next to learn about solutions.

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