Shoulder and Arm Pain Symptoms and Causes

Are you experiencing pain or discomfort in your shoulders or arms?

There are a number of causes for shoulder and arm pain, such as musculoskeletal shoulder pain caused by damage to the muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint, and overuse or repetitive strain to this part of your body.

Due to the constant use of our shoulder joints, they are prone to injury and wear and tear. Pain stemming from a shoulder injury is often described as a dull ache in the shoulder region, pain when lying on or lifting the injured shoulder, or localised pain either on the outside or front of the shoulder.

Arm pain is similar to shoulder pain and can be caused by repetitive overuse or a sudden, traumatic injury. One added complexity is that arm pain can be a purely localised injury, a musculoskeletal injury or referred pain from nerves in your neck.

In many cases, a physiotherapist can assess your shoulder and arm issues, identify its likely cause and recommend the right treatment pathway.

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Types of Shoulder and Arm Injuries

Bursitis Shoulder Injury

The bursa is a small fluid-filled sack within the shoulder that serves as a lubricant between your tendons, ligaments and bone. Bursas are located in the knee, elbow and shoulder region.

Bursitis refers to the inflammation of the bursa joint. Inflammation can result from overuse and repetitive strain from lifting and not treating existing shoulder injuries.

Treating bursitis can be achieved in a number of ways including icing the impacted area, anti-inflammatory medications and physiotherapy treatment techniques such as strengthening exercises and taping.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

Carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, is a painful wrist and hand issue caused by extended pressure on your median nerve as it runs through your wrist’s carpal tunnel. Sufferers experience numbness, pins and needles and pain. There were an estimated 195 000 instances of CTS annually across Australia in 2009.

The two primary causes of CTS are where the wrist swells contracting the tunnel space after tenosynovitis, a traumatic injury or fracture or a partial subluxation of the carpal bones, and when the median nerve, blood vessels and tendons in the tunnel enlarge, compressing the median nerve.

If you feel numbness or pain within your hand or wrist, your physiotherapist will examine the area and perform a number of tests to accurately diagnose your condition.

Physiotherapy can benefit many carpal tunnel sufferers, particularly mild to moderate cases. Your physiotherapist will explore carpal bone mobilisation and stretching open the carpal tunnel. This is usually complemented by nerve and tendon gliding exercises to restore unrestricted nerve motion, and muscle and soft tissue extensibility. Ultrasound therapy, acupuncture, massage, yoga and a TENS machine have all been found to aid in recovery. Carpel tunnel stretching treatment has a 30-day recovery time for most patients.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

RSI is a repetitive strain injury caused predominantly by repeated actions and overuse. These injuries occur most commonly in the hands and arms but may also affect muscles ligaments and tendons.

From 2017 to 2018 some 8 per cent of Australians injured in the workplace suffered from repetitive movement with low muscle loading. Today, the main causes of RSI are manual labour, office work and the use of modern technological devices. Due to the high tempo of training in sports and leisure activities, this is emerging as a common cause, particularly amongst long-distance runners, golfers, tennis players and professional musicians.

To reduce the pain felt by RSI, cycles of ice, heat and rest together with anti-inflammatory medication may help to ease the inflammation. Changing your diet to include foods high in anti-inflammatory properties may also help.

Golfer's Elbow

Golfer’s elbow is an injury to the muscles that act to flex your fingers and wrist. The site of injury is typically the bony bump on the inside of the elbow where your muscles attach.

The primary cause of golfer’s elbow is overuse of the forearm muscles, especially the flexor compartment. This places an excessive load on the tendon that attaches this group of muscles to the elbow. When combined with joint stiffness or poor biomechanics, the tendon may literally begin fraying away from its bony anchor.

Stretching is a critical element in your golfer’s elbow rehabilitation process. You should start gentle stretching exercises as soon as pain permits and continue stretching throughout your rehabilitation program.

Physiotherapy treatment for golfer’s elbow may include gentle mobilisation of your elbow and neck joints, muscle stretches, protective strapping, electrotherapy, neural mobilisations, massage and strengthening.

Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow is an injury to the muscles that act to rotate your wrist and extend your fingers. The site of injury is typically the bony bump on the outside of the elbow where these muscles attach.

Tennis elbow pain is triggered by damage to the tendon connecting your forearm muscles to the bone in your upper arm. These muscles allow you to extend your wrist backwards. You can get tennis elbow pain from playing too much tennis and other racquet sports, lifting heavy weights, poor technique or from overusing your wrist and forearm at work in a range of professions, from overusing your keyboard or mouse to working as a butcher, carpenter and plumber. Around the home, gardening and painting are common tennis elbow culprits.

Your physiotherapy treatment may incorporate mobilising your elbow and neck joints, muscle stretches, elbow kinesio taping, massage, electrotherapy, and strengthening exercises. Both stretching and strengthening exercises will support your recovery.

Rotator Cuff Syndrome / Impingement Syndrome

Rotator cuff syndrome is a very common shoulder injury as your shoulder joint is a comparatively unstable ball and socket joint that is controlled and moved by four muscles known as the rotator cuff. Your rotator cuff muscles stabilise and control your shoulder movement on your shoulder blade.

Rotator cuff tears may occur as a result of a single injury or from accumulated wear and tear and overuse. Rotator cuff injuries most often occur in people repeatedly performing overhead actions in sports such as tennis, squash, skiing, snowboarding and football, or jobs such as carpenters and painters.

At the Southport Central Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic, we typically start with a conservative treatment strategy comprising of physical therapy, stretching and taping. Exercises designed to address the specific location of your rotator cuff injury can help restore flexibility and strength to your shoulder. Physical therapy is also an important part of the recovery process following rotator cuff surgery.

Our Approach to Treating Shoulder & Neck Pain

At the Southport Central Physiotherapy & Sport Injury Clinic, our experienced team provide thorough consultations which are focused around identifying the cause of your shoulder and arm pain, and helping you progress through each stage of recovery.

Planning for your Appointment

Before seeing your physiotherapist, make a list of your symptoms and when they began, even if they may seem unrelated. Jot down your personal information, any recent life changes or major stresses together with your family medical history. You should also list all medications, vitamins and other supplements you are taking. Finally, bring a list of questions to ask your physiotherapist during your consultation.

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Senior Musculoskeletal Consultant

Mr Leo Hyun

  • Bachelor of Physiotherapy
  • Rehabilitation and injury prevention
  • Sporting injury management
  • Return-to-work rehabilitation
  • Management and prevention of arthritis and other conditions
  • Watson Headache® Practitioner
  • Level I Watson Headache® Foundation Course
  • Level II Watson Headache® Consolidation Course
  • Certificate in Dry Needling
  • Mulligan Concept Trained Practitioner

Why choose our clinic

From the moment you book in for your consultation till the completion of your spinal treatments, you will realiseSouthport Central Physiotherapy & Sport Injury Clinic difference.

  • Peace of mind
  • Trust
  • Clear communication
  • Dedication and commitment
  • Highest level of care
  • Problem-solving approach
  • Second opinions
  • Non-invasive treatment