Children's Hospital Colorado

Shoulder Pain

What is shoulder pain?

The shoulder joint is a complex joint that combines many bones, tendons and muscles in order to allow a large range of motion of the arm. The large range of motion of the shoulder makes it more susceptible to injury, which can cause shoulder pain. Your child may feel pain only with certain movements – such as throwing a baseball – or it may be constant pain. Many shoulder conditions are aggravated by specific actions or sports. Hockey shoulder injuries as well as ski and snowboarding shoulder injuries are common.

What causes shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain usually involves the soft tissues of the shoulder, which include the muscles, ligaments and tendons, rather than bones. Another common cause of shoulder pain is traumatic injury, which can lead to shoulder instability, commonly called a dislocated shoulder when the shoulder moves out of its normal position.

Rare causes of shoulder pain are tumors, infection or nerve-related problems.

Soft tissue shoulder injuries include:

  • Tendonitis: A tendon connects muscle to bone or other tissue and has a cord or band-like quality. Tendonitis is often a result of the wearing process of the tendons that takes place over a long period of time, but it can also be caused from overuse or high-intensity sports. The rotator cuff is the unit of muscles and tendons that provides shoulder motion and stability; it is the most common area for tendonitis.
  • Bursitis: Excessive use of the shoulder can lead to inflammation and swelling of a bursa. Bursas are fluid-filled sacs located near friction areas in the joint that lessen the friction caused by movement of the shoulder. The condition known as bursitis can limit the range of motion of the shoulder because of pain.