What Causes Stiff Shoulders?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Many things can cause stiff shoulders, the most common being shoulder injury and degenerative disease, such as arthritis. Sprains and strains are other causes of stiff shoulders. Inflammation due to bursitis and tendinitis may cause stiff shoulders. An individual's sleeping position may also cause stiffness of the shoulders and neck.

When someone suddenly develops stiffness in the shoulders without the presence of disease, the stiffness may be caused by over exertion of a muscle or group of muscles. Quite often, professional athletes or those who participate in sports may develop sore and stiff shoulders. This may be due to wear and tear on shoulder joints.

Stiffness in the shoulder area may be caused by inflammation of muscle tissue and tendons known as tendinitis. In the shoulder, this condition often produces symptoms of stiffness and difficulty in lifting the arm. Varying degrees of pain may accompany this condition.

Individuals who exert too much pressure on the arm and shoulder during sleep may suffer from morning stiffness of the neck and shoulders. Sleeping position that does not support the neck is another cause for shoulder stiffness. This can generally be corrected by using an ergonomically designed or orthopedic pillow. Some pillows are designed to cradle the neck and shoulders, providing support needed to eliminate stiff and sore muscles.


Regardless of the cause, stiff shoulders may be treated in several ways. One treatment may be the use of an ice compress for swelling. Resting the stiff shoulders may also be recommended if a sprain is the cause. It's important to gently exercise the affected shoulder to prevent a condition known as frozen shoulder, which makes movement difficult and painful.

In some cases, individuals who lift heavy objects can suffer from injuries leading to stiff shoulders or muscle strain. Occasionally, tendon tears can result from heavy lifting as well. The strain and stiffness of the shoulders may also indicate something known as shoulder impingement. When tendons become compressed, severe pain may result as well.

Bad posture may also cause stiff shoulders. This can occur from constant slouching or leaning over. Many people who sit at a desk and type for long periods may suffer from shoulder stiffness. This can easily be corrected by maintaining proper posture and by using ergonomically designed chairs and furniture. Taking short breaks regularly may help avoid stiff muscles as well.


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