Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain

By Mai Vu, Physical Therapist

Shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints that we see in our office. Some common causes of shoulder pain are:

Tendonitis – This occurs when inflammation is present in tendons. Tendons are the structures that connect muscles to bones.

Bursitis – This occurs when inflammation is present in a bursa. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that helps to decrease friction when the body moves.

Tears – Tears can occur as a result of trauma such as a fall, or they can occur slowly over time. Tears can range from a microscopic level to a complete tear where the muscle or ligament is no longer attached.

Radiculopathy – This occurs when there is a problem with the nerves from the spine. The nerves from the neck travel across the shoulder and down the arm. When there is a problem in the spine, pain can be felt along the path of the nerves.


When there is shoulder pain there are many structures that may be involved, including:

  • Rotator Cuff which is comprised of 4 different muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis)
  • Long head of the Biceps Tendon Subacromial Bursa Acromioclavicular Joint – this is where the clavicle (collar bone) meets the scapula (shoulder blade)
  • Glenohumeral Joint – this is where the scapula (shoulder blade) meets the humerus (upper arm bone)
  • Labrum – this is part of the glenohumeral joint
  • The muscles, bones, and nerves from the neck (cervical spine)
  • The muscles, bones, and nerves from the trunk (thoracic spine)

We will cover some of these topics in more detail in later posts.

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