Physical and Occupational Therapy

The Shoulder Pain Break Down

Let’s start with a little 101: defines shoulder pain as: Shoulder Pain – The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint formed by the head of the humerus (the arm bone) and the glenoid labrum (the name for the socket of the shoulder joint in the scapula). The shoulder joint is very mobile – allowing great freedom of movement for the arm (much more than the equivalent joint in the hip). This greater mobility means that the shoulder joint is less stable. The stability of the shoulder joint also relies a lot on the ‘rotator cuff muscles’ – four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres minor) inserting around the shoulder joint that help move it, as well as providing stability. These muscles are a common source of pain. Shoulder pain is common, and can result from a number of conditions. Importantly, pain felt in the shoulder region does not necessarily mean that the pain is coming from the shoulder. The pain could be caused by neck problems, or referred from internal structures like the lungs, heart, or even the liver or gallbladder.


Most shoulder pain stemming from a non traumatic injury is a combination of rotator cuff problems and/or shoulder alignment problems called impingement.

*The number one thing to know about shoulder pain is to get treatment EARLY.  Waiting for shoulder pain to go away (especially after the age of 30) most often results in things getting worse.  Addressing the pain early most often results in avoiding major injury or surgical intervention.


As a society we spend a lot of our time bent forward.  We slouch over desks, computers, on couches and recliners and have poor posture in general.  This prolonged forward bent posture reduces the space in the front of the shoulder joint and tightens everything down.

Here is one stretch that our clinicians use frequently to open up the chest and get the shoulders “back” where they belong.


This is the “doorway” stretch.  Hold this position for 30 seconds 3 times. Rest between each stretch for 10 seconds.  Do this 3-4 times a day.

The 4 muscles that make up the rotator cuff can be strengthened to further improve your shoulder pain.  External rotation exercise is the number one way to strengthen your rotators.


It’s best to start with a low resistance band and 10 reps.  Do 2-3 sets of the 10 reps, allowing rest time between.  Always use a rolled towel to improve alignment and blood flow to important structures in the shoulder while doing this exercise.  Do this 2 times a day.

And most importantly if your shoulder doesn’t feel better in 3 days, call a physical therapist.  They can help target where your pain is coming from and give you specific ways to treat it.

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