What Causes Shoulder Aches?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Shoulder aches can be caused by any number of conditions, stresses, or injuries. Exercising may cause soreness or tenderness in the shoulders, which is a simple problem that can be fixed easily. Arthritis can form in the neck and spine, as well as in the shoulder joints, which can be much trickier shoulder aches to get rid of. Other shoulder aches are simply caused by aging; as muscles weaken and tendons can handle less stress, the shoulders are prone to aching when overused or when used regularly. In younger people, injuries are perhaps the most common cause of aches anywhere in the body, not just the shoulders.

During physical activity, muscles contract quickly. If the muscle contracts too quickly or in an awkward motion, a muscle strain can occur. This can cause pain in the shoulders and is common in sports that require a throwing motion. The muscle can swell or bruise, leading to a throbbing or dull ache in the shoulders and arms. Proper conditioning can help prevent such injuries, as can stretching before and after physical activity. Over the counter pain medication can help alleviate some of the pain in this instance, and using the RICE treatment — Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation — can keep swelling down, thereby helping alleviate some of the pain.


After exercise, lactic acid can build up in the muscles. Lactic acid is a byproduct of burned glycogen, which is the body's fuel of choice during physical activity. Lactic acid buildup can lead to an achy or stiff feeling, causing shoulder aches for hours or days after a workout. Drinking plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise can help prevent such shoulder aches, as can proper diet and conditioning. Many athletes participate in lactic acid threshold training, which helps the body perform at higher levels during lactic acid buildup.

Some shoulder aches are due to aging. It is quite normal for muscles and tendons to weaken with age, and this means the muscles and tendons are less prepared to handle stresses associated with common physical activity. The bones in the shoulder also wear with age, and bone spurs can form at the joints. Bone spurs are sharp sections of bone that can rub against nerves, muscles, tendons, or other areas of the body, causing a painful sensation throughout the shoulder. Arthritis can also occur with age. As the ligaments between bones in a joint weaken, wear, or disappear, bone is likely to rub on bone, causing an aching or shooting pain.


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