Rx3: Shoulder Pain FAQs

What is shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain is characterized by dysfunction of or damage to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments that control movement and provide stability to the shoulder joint. Shoulder pain can limit movement and cause weakness in and around the shoulder joint. The exact causes vary and can be difficult to identify. Some possible causes include altered mechanics of the shoulder blade, repetitive overhead activities such as lifting, and weakness or tightness in the muscles involved with shoulder joint.

What are the symptoms of shoulder pain?

Symptoms include pain around or within the shoulder joint (especially with reaching or overhead movements), feelings of weakness in the shoulder and arm, a clicking or catching during arm movements, and an inability to move your arm through its normal range of motion. The pain can come on slowly or quickly and is often worse when you lift your arm overhead. Symptoms may disrupt your sleep patterns and affect your ability to perform daily tasks such as shampooing your hair, putting on clothes, lifting groceries, or playing with children.

Is there a test for shoulder pain?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and will perform a physical exam. Depending on your age and your specific symptoms, your doctor may or may not order imaging tests (X-ray, MRI, CT scan, or bone scan) to help with the diagnosis.

How is shoulder pain treated?

The mainstay of shoulder pain treatment is through physical rehabilitation: performing exercises and stretches to increase the strength, endurance, and flexibility of the muscles of the upper back and shoulder.

The program organizes the exercises by 3 phases based on how far along you are in the recovery process. Unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise, start with Phase 1. Each phase includes a session of stretches, shoulder and core exercises, and a cardio component. Make sure you do all the parts of each session in order.

Advance to the next phase no sooner than 3 weeks and only when you feel you have mastered the exercises and can perform them with minimal effort and discomfort. If you have pain during or after the Phase 1 exercises, or if you have questions about when to go on to the next phase, check with your healthcare provider.

How long is this shoulder pain rehabilitation program?

Complete the program at least 3 days a week, increasing to 5 days a week as it becomes easier. Each exercise session should take about 20 minutes, plus the cardio component, and less than 15 minutes for stretching. You will need very little equipment for this program. Each phase takes at least 3 weeks, so the program will take you at least 9 weeks, but the actual time you need to recover will depend on your specific injury condition.

How can I contact HPRC if I have questions?

HPRC has an Ask the Expert feature where you can send your questions. Our experts will reply with detailed information.