What is Referred Shoulder Pain?

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  • Written By: C. Martin
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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Referred shoulder pain is an ache or pain that is experienced in the shoulder, but in fact originates from an injury or problem elsewhere in the body. The neck, chest, and shoulder regions have a great deal of inter-connectivity in terms of common nerves, which is the reason that pain may be experienced at a site where there is no illness or injury. One of the main indications that a shoulder ache may be referred is if the pain does not alter as the patient moves his or her shoulder, arm, or neck. Another important clue that may suggest referred shoulder pain is if it is accompanied by symptoms in another part of the body, such as the chest, the abdomen, or the spine.

The most common cause of referred shoulder pain is cervical spine degeneration. The term for this illness is cervical spondylosis, and it is relatively common in people over the age of 50, although only around 20% of sufferers experience painful symptoms. Chronic pain may be experienced, along with shoulder problems and neck problems.

Thoracic spine problems may also result in pain in the shoulder. When pain is referred from the spine to the shoulder, it is usually because a nerve is becoming compressed. Spinal problems resulting in shoulder pain may be accompanied by a tingling or numb sensation in the fingers, weakness of the muscles, and impaired coordination in the hands and arms.


Some other important types of health problems that may lead to referred shoulder pain include lung diseases, heart problems, and abdominal illnesses. Lung diseases that are known to cause pain in the shoulder include pneumonia, cancer of the lung, and general inflammation in the lung region. In these cases, the shoulder pain is most commonly experienced on the same side of the body as the originating lung problem.

Heart problems that may cause referred shoulder pain include heart attack, myocardial infarction, and pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the membrane around the heart. In the case of heart problems, the shoulder pain may be accompanied by pulsating pains down the arm, and is usually experienced on the left side of the body. The neck may also be painful.

Abdominal conditions that may lead to referred shoulder pain include pancreatitis and gallstones. Gallstones may result in a pain in the right hand shoulder. Shoulder pain has also been known to occur as a side effect of an invasive medical procedure such as laparoscopy, or certain gynecological procedures.


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