Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine – Whether you are an athlete, did some heavy lifting, or are simply getting older, shoulder problems such as sore muscles or aches and pains are quite common. It is estimated that 18-26% of adults will experience shoulder pain at any point in time, making it one of the most common regional pain syndromes. Although most shoulder pain will go away on its own with rest and other at-home treatment, there are certain signs that should not be ignored and may indicate a serious injury has occurred. Here are the seven signs it’s time to see an orthopedic doctor if you are experiencing shoulder pain.

You Notice a Popping Sound or Sensation

If you have experienced a blow to the arm or a hard fall and noticed a popping sensation followed by intense pain, you should seek immediate medical attention. A popping sound or sensation can indicate a number of serious injuries, including labral tears and rotator cuff damage. It is important to remember that minor popping or clicking in the shoulder is common and often caused by everyday wear and tear. However, when a pop is accompanied by pain, warmth, limited range of motion, or deformity, failure to get proper treatment can result in further complications and long-term injuries.

You Experience Redness & Swelling

When a painful shoulder is red, swollen, and not responding to at-home treatments like over-the-counter pain medications, cold or hot compresses, and rest, it is likely time to see an orthopedic doctor. Redness and swelling in the shoulder is often associated with injury and overuse. Conditions such as bursitis, swimmer’s shoulder, arthritis, and rotator cuff tendinitis, are all possibilities and should be treated by an experienced orthopedic specialist.

Your Shoulder Is Weak or Unstable

Shoulder weakness or instability is a key sign of injuries such as ruptured or torn rotator cuffs and dislocations. These types of injuries are often caused by a sudden force to the shoulder from falls, sports injuries, and automobile accidents. If you are experiencing general shoulder weakness, stiffness, difficulty lifting or lowering your arm, pain while resting or lying on the shoulder, and crackling sensations, you should have your shoulder evaluated as soon as possible.

You Notice a Bump

If a painful bump develops on your shoulder after a fall or sudden impact, it is likely a sign you have injured your AC joint or there is a shoulder separation. Most AC separation injuries do not require surgery and will recover naturally over time. However, an orthopedic doctor will be able to determine the extent of the injury and provide the right treatment recommendations to ensure your injury heals properly.

Your Range of Motion is Impacted

Limited range of motion, such as not being able to reach above your head or side to side, is a typical symptom of a shoulder injury. This could be a sign of a serious injury called frozen shoulder, which occurs when the tissues inside your rotator cuff become swollen and limit your range of motion. Without proper treatment, a frozen shoulder can take several years to recover, severely impacting your quality of life. Other injuries, including rotator cuff tears, bursitis, and arthritis, can also limit your shoulder’s range of motion.

It’s Difficult to Perform Everyday Tasks

When your shoulder pain or discomfort is making it difficult to perform everyday activities like getting dressed, reaching for something above your head, or grocery shopping, it’s time to speak to an orthopedic specialist. It’s normal to have minor discomfort from time to time, but pain that impacts your quality of life or ability to work pain free is a sign you could be experiencing a serious condition or injury.

Your Symptoms Do Not Improve

Most shoulder pain or discomfort will begin to improve after a day or two of rest and home remedies like icing or over-the-counter pain medication. However, if your shoulder pain persists for several days or more, it could be a sign of a chronic condition such as bursitis, tendinitis, or osteoarthritis. Even if your pain is manageable, it is a good idea to have your shoulder evaluated and to begin treatment before your symptoms worsen.

Shoulder pain and discomfort is not uncommon, but it is also something that should be taken seriously. Whether you have difficulty performing everyday tasks and your symptoms are not improving or you have experienced a shoulder injury that is causing intense pain, you should consider visiting an orthopedic physician. There are also a few things you can do to prevent shoulder pain or injuries, including regular stretching, building muscle endurance through exercise, improving workplace ergonomics, and avoiding repetitive movements. For more information about treating shoulder pain and injuries, the team at Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine can help. Contact us today to learn more about our services and schedule an appointment.


Q: How can I prevent clicking or popping when I rotate my shoulder?

A: A clicking or popping sensation with shoulder movement can be bothersome, painful, and have many causes. However, there are a few ways to alleviate these symptoms, including maintaining good posture, gentle exercise to strengthen muscles around the joints, and avoiding overuse or repetitive movements.

Q: When should I seek emergency care for shoulder pain?

A: Shoulder injuries don’t typically warrant a visit to the emergency room, but sudden, unexplained shoulder pain could be an indicator of a heart attack. If you experience abrupt shoulder pain, especially if it is alongside chest pain or tightness, you should dial 911 immediately.

Q: Can shoulder pain be treated without surgery?

A: Many people are reluctant to visit an orthopedic specialist for shoulder pain because they fear it will lead to surgery. Fortunately, most shoulder pain can be treated with non-surgical options such as physical therapy, medications, and injections.