Pain in Both Shoulders | 8 Causes for Bilateral Shoulder Pain (2023)

What is causing your pain in both shoulders?

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Pain in both shoulders causes

Many conditions can have pain in both shoulders as a symptom. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.

Most common causes

The most common causes of pain in both shoulders include the following.

  • Inflammation of your muscles and/or tendons
  • Tension in the muscles of your neck and shoulder: Tension is likely due to stress or poor posture. You're more likely to have poor posture if you spend long hours sitting at a desk or bending over a table or an assembly line.
  • Chronic overuse injury: This type of injury occurs when you make the same motion with the shoulder over and over again. Swinging tennis rackets, hitting baseballs, or lifting weights are potential causes [3]. This injury can result in a sprain, strain, tear, or other damage to the joints, tendons, muscles, and bursa.
  • Trauma: Examples of trauma include a fall, an automobile accident, or an acute sports injury.

Less common causes

The following are less common causes of pain in both shoulders.

  • Autoimmune diseases: These diseases often cause repeated episodes of inflammation. Inflammation will eventually damage cartilage and bone and cause chronic pain.
  • Neurologic diseases: These diseases damage the nerves and cause neuropathic pain.
  • Severe infections of the bones or cartilage

Rare and unusual causes

The following are rare causes of pain in both shoulders.

  • Aging: You may acquire degenerative diseases of the bone and cartilage of the neck and shoulders.
  • Referred pain: Referred pain starts in another part of your body but is felt in your shoulders. In rare cases, pain in both shoulders can originate in tumors elsewhere in the body.

Examples of referred pain

The following are examples of pain that originates elsewhere in the body but may affect your shoulders.

  • Tingling in the arm and hand: The neck may be the starting point.
  • Tightness and discomfort in the arms: This tightness can indicate heart disease. If you continue to experience this discomfort, treat this as a medical emergency even if you don't have chest pain.
  • Pain in the right upper abdomen: Pain in this area can be due to liver or gallbladder disease.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Shoulder arthritis

Shoulder arthritis is inflammation of the shoulder joint, where the upper arm bone (humerus) meets the shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle). This inflammation can be caused by osteoarthritis or "wear-and-tear," injury to the shoulder joints, rotator cuff injuries, or r...

(Video) Referred Pain Around The Shoulder - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder)

Frozen shoulder is also called adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. The "shoulder capsule" is the strong web of connective tissue which holds the ball joint of the upper arm inside the socket of the shoulder blade. If this connective tissue is damaged, scar tissue – or adhesions – may form and cause the shoulder capsule to become tight, painful, and inflexible.

The condition can happen if an injury to the shoulder forces it to stay immobilized while healing. Additional risk factors may be diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, and heart disease.

Symptoms include gradual worsening of the ability to move the shoulder, due to increasing pain and stiffness in the outer shoulder and upper arm.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, with simple tests to measure how far the shoulder can move, as well as imaging such as x-ray or MRI.

Treatment involves physical therapy to help restore range of motion; over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease pain; and sometimes cortisone injections to the shoulder joint. Surgery may be needed in some cases.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: spontaneous shoulder pain, stiff shoulder, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder

Symptoms that always occur with frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder): stiff shoulder

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Non-specific shoulder pain

Non-specific shoulder pain, also called NSSP, means that the cause of pain in the shoulder is not immediately obvious.

There are many structures in and around the shoulder. The pain may be from a condition or injury in the joint itself, or in any of the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding it. Anything from a broken arm to arthritis can cause shoulder pain.

Symptoms include pain that worsens with movement of the arm and shoulder, especially following overuse, or injury. Swelling, redness, joint deformity, inability to move the arm, or severe pain should be seen right away by a medical provider.

Shoulder pain with shortness of breath and/or pain or tightness in the chest can be signs of a heart attack. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and through x-ray or CT scan.

Treatment usually begins with rest and over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Further care will be determined by medical providers once the exact cause of the pain has been determined.

Rarity: Common

(Video) Shoulder Pain: Causes and Treatment Options

Top Symptoms: shoulder pain

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific shoulder pain: shoulder pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder")

Repetitive strain injury of the shoulder is caused by consistent repetitive use.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder weakness, shoulder numbness

Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder"): shoulder pain from overuse

Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder"): severe shoulder pain, shoulder injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

Pain In Both Shoulders Symptom Checker

Brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue)

The brachial plexus is a web of nerves between the neck and shoulder, connecting the spinal cord nerves to the arm. There is one web on each side of the neck. Any injury that forces the shoulder to stretch down, and the neck to stretch up and away, can damage these nerves and cause brachial plexopathy.

Sports injuries and car accidents are often involved. Inflammation, tumors, and radiation treatment can also damage the brachial plexus.

Milder symptoms include numbness and weakness in the arm, with a shocklike stinging or burning sensation. A more severe injury can cause paralysis and loss of feeling in the arm, with pain in some parts of the arm, hand, and shoulder.

These symptoms should be seen by a medical provider since permanent damage can result if the injuries are not treated.

Diagnosis is made through electromyography (EMG) testing, CT scan, MRI, and sometimes angiogram.

Treatment usually involves rest and physical therapy. Surgery may be necessary to remove scar tissue or repair the damaged nerves.

(Video) Diagnosis & Therapy of Acute Shoulder Pain – Family Medicine | Lecturio

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain

Symptoms that never occur with brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue): pain in the front middle part of the neck

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Pinched nerve in the neck

A pinched nerve in the neck is also called cervical radiculopathy. It means that a nerve in the neck, at a point where it branches off from the spinal cord, is being compressed by the surrounding bones, muscles, or other tissues.

It can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as from sports or an automobile accident, especially if the injury results in a herniated disk. It may also arise from the normal wear and tear of aging.

Symptoms include sharp, burning pain with numbness and tingling from the neck to the shoulder, as well as weakness and numbness into the arm and hand.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and simple neurological tests to check the reflexes. Imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be done, as well as electromyography to measure nerve impulses in the muscles.

A pinched nerve in the neck often improves with simply a few days or weeks of rest. Physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid injections into the spine can all be very helpful.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

(Video) What is Causing Your Shoulder Pain? Tendonitis? Bursitis? How to Know?

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache

Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

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Questions your doctor may ask about pain in both shoulders

  • How would you explain the cause of your shoulder pain?
  • Can you fully move your shoulders around?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Where exactly is your shoulder pain?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

(Video) Dealing with Chronic Shoulder Pain


What is bilateral shoulder condition? ›

Bilateral anterior shoulder dislocation occurs mainly due to trauma to the shoulders in the extension, abduction and external rotation positions (2, 20, 25), which is exactly the same injury mechanism as our reported case. Other mechanism of injury is the traction in forward flexion of the shoulder (2, 24, 25, 28).

What does pain in both shoulder blades mean? ›

The most common cause of pain between the shoulder blades is muscle strain caused by poor posture, frequent lifting, or sports that involve twisting. Other causes include: Trauma. Arthritis. Herniated disc.

Can you get arthritis in both shoulders at the same time? ›

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Shoulder

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means your body attacks your own healthy cells, which may include the lining of the joint. This inflammatory arthritis can be present in both shoulders at the same time.

What nerve affects both shoulders? ›

The axillary nerve starts in your neck and extends to your shoulder. It causes movement and sensation in your shoulder and the back of your upper arm. Injuries to this nerve can affect your ability to rotate your arm or lift it.

What would cause pain in both shoulders at the same time? ›

Causes of why both your shoulders hurt include strain and tension in the muscles from poor posture, overuse, or trauma from an injury that may also cause neck and shoulder pain.

What would make both my shoulders hurt? ›

Overuse or injury of nearby tendons, such as the bicep muscles of the arms. Nerve injury that leads to abnormal shoulder movement. Tears of the rotator cuff tendons. Poor shoulder posture and mechanics.

Can shoulder pain be a symptom of something else? ›

In addition to spine or disc issues, you can also experience shoulder pain from other health problems, ranging from pneumonia, pancreatitis, and gallstones to inflammation around the heart and heart attack.

Can MS cause shoulder blade pain? ›

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can often lead to muscle or joint pain due to nerve damage, either as a direct cause or residual effect of MS. According to one study of 115 people with MS, the shoulders and upper back are commonly affected areas of pain in those with MS.

When should I be concerned about pain between my shoulder blades? ›

Upper back pain between the shoulder blades can be a symptom of a heart attack, stroke, or another serious cardiac event. If you experience pain between your shoulder blades accompanied by chest pain, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath seek immediate medical attention.

What does polymyalgia pain feel like? ›

Aches or pain in your neck, upper arms, buttocks, hips or thighs. Stiffness in affected areas, particularly in the morning or after being inactive for a time. Limited range of motion in affected areas. Pain or stiffness in your wrists, elbows or knees.

What cancers cause shoulder pain? ›

Shoulder pain may occur if a lung tumor exerts pressure on a nearby nerve or if lung cancer spreads to the bones in or around the shoulder. It's important to note, however, that shoulder pain could also result from a condition completely unrelated to cancer, such as arthritis.

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the shoulder? ›

When RA affects the shoulders, the symptoms may include:
  • pain and stiffness in the shoulder.
  • tenderness and swelling of the shoulder joints.
  • bilateral joint pain.
  • deformed joints.
  • fatigue.
  • low grade fever.
  • loss of appetite.
  • weakness.
30 May 2022

Can you have neuropathy in your shoulders? ›

Brachial neuritis is a form of peripheral neuropathy that affects the chest, shoulder, arm and hand. Peripheral neuropathy is a disease characterized by pain or loss of function in the nerves that carry signals to and from the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) to other parts of the body.

What is Klumpke's palsy? ›

Klumpke's palsy, or Klumpke's paralysis, is a form of brachial plexus palsy – a paralysis of the arm due to an injury of the network of spinal nerves that originates in the back of the neck, extends through the shoulder and armpit and gives rise to nerves in the arm.

What does brachial neuritis feel like? ›

Symptoms of brachial neuritis include: Severe pain in the upper arm or shoulder. Pain usually affecting just one side of the body. After a few hours or days, the pain transitions to weakness, limpness, or paralysis in the muscles of the affected arm or shoulder.

Can you have shoulder impingement in both shoulders? ›

However, if your arm pain has been severe and you have not moved your arm fully then you can have both shoulder conditions at the same time. How Common is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome? Shoulder Impingement Syndrome is very common!

Can a pinched nerve cause pain in both shoulders? ›

A pinched nerve usually causes pain in one shoulder only. It's also typically a sharp pain, as opposed to a dull ache or a strain that you might feel if you overworked your muscles. Pain may also worsen if you turn your head.

Can shoulder pain be related to heart problems? ›

Another heart disease-related cause of shoulder pain is pericarditis, or inflammation of the membrane that surrounds your heart, the American Heart Association (AHA) explains. Symptoms of acute pericarditis can come on quickly.

Why do both my shoulders hurt at night? ›

Typically, shoulder pain that gets worse at night may be caused by bursitis, tendinopathy or an injury to the rotator cuff. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa, which is a fluid-filled pad that provides a cushion to the bones of the joint.

Can fibromyalgia cause shoulder pain? ›

If fibromyalgia has caused you to experience pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders, you may also have frequent headaches. These can vary from being mild headaches to severe migraines, and could also involve other symptoms, such as feeling sick.

What does bursitis in the shoulder feel like? ›

You may experience a dull ache, sharp pain or mild tenderness. Other signs of shoulder bursitis include: Shoulder stiffness or a feeling of swelling. Painful range of motion.

What are 2 warning signs of a rotator cuff tear? ›

The pain associated with a rotator cuff injury may:
  • Be described as a dull ache deep in the shoulder.
  • Disturb sleep.
  • Make it difficult to comb your hair or reach behind your back.
  • Be accompanied by arm weakness.
18 May 2022

How do I know what type of shoulder pain I have? ›

Self-Diagnose Shoulder Pain with these Tests - YouTube

How can you tell the difference between rotator cuff and tendonitis? ›

For starters, both have similar symptoms like pain, swelling, and stiffness. With a tear, the arm can barely move overhead. Tendinopathy tends to happen over months, even years, of overuse. Tears, however, are sharp pains that generally occur after a sports collision or accident.

What does MS joint pain feel like? ›

These are painful sensations that can affect the legs, feet, arms and hands and feel like burning, prickling, stabbing, ice cold or electrical sensations. They can interfere with daily activities, sleep and overall quality of life.

What were your first signs of MS? ›

What are some of the common symptoms of MS?
  • fatigue.
  • numbness and tingling.
  • loss of balance and dizziness.
  • stiffness or spasms.
  • tremor.
  • pain.
  • bladder problems.
  • bowel trouble.

Does MS cause neck and shoulder pain? ›

Neck and back pain: Some people with MS can experience neck and back pain. This may be due to immobility, or to the same type of wear and tear that many people without MS experience. This type of pain is often an aching, stiff sensation that can be moderately severe.

What is rhomboid pain? ›

Rhomboid pain is felt under the neck between the shoulder blades and spine. It's sometimes referred to as shoulder blade pain or upper back pain. You may feel pain in this area as a strain, a shooting pain, or some type of spasm. Other symptoms of rhomboid muscle pain may include: tenderness in the upper back area.

Can liver problems cause shoulder blade pain? ›

Oftentimes, patients with liver cancer may notice swelling or the formation of hard lumps in this area, either of which may be accompanied by pain. This pain can sometimes also be felt in the back, below the right shoulder blade.

What are the symptoms of a pinched nerve in shoulder blade? ›

Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve. Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward. Tingling, pins and needles sensations (paresthesia) Muscle weakness in the affected area.

What causes bilateral shoulder dislocation? ›

Bilateral shoulder dislocation is a very rare entity and is almost always posterior. Such dislocations are usually caused by sports injuries, epileptic seizures, electrical shock, or electroconvulsive therapy.

How do you know if shoulder pain is heart related? ›

Sudden left shoulder pain can sometimes be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have sudden pressure or crushing pain in your shoulder, especially if the pain runs from your chest to the left jaw, arm or neck, or occurs with shortness of breath, dizziness, or sweating.

What is the VA disability rating for shoulder pain? ›

Can I get VA Disability for shoulder pain? Yes, as long as the shoulder pain is service-connected, you can qualify for VA Disability. It will be rated the minimum 10% unless there is limited motion that qualifies for a higher rating.

Can you have rotator cuff injury in both shoulders? ›

Do rotator cuff tears affect both shoulders? Tears tend to occur on your dominant side, but can be on either side. Having a tear in one shoulder increases the likelihood of a tear in the opposite shoulder. You might not have shoulder pain on the opposite side, but tests may indicate a tear.

What is subluxation of the shoulder? ›

A shoulder subluxation occurs when the humerus partially slides in and out of place quickly (Figure 2). Shoulder dislocations occur when the humerus comes all the way out of the glenoid (Figure 3). It may fall back into place after time or may need to be put back into place with medical assistance.

How do you diagnose a shoulder subluxation? ›

During physical examinations, subluxation is detected by palpation of the glenohumeral joint. The extent of shoulder subluxation can be quantified by the distance from the acromion to the humeral head, using fingerbreadth, caliper, or tape.

How do I fix chronic shoulder instability? ›

Treatment for shoulder instability

These may include: Resting the shoulder and restricting movement to help the tendons recover. Shoulder exercises designed to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Activity moderation to prevent further dislocations if necessary.

Can shoulder pain be related to heart problems? ›

Another heart disease-related cause of shoulder pain is pericarditis, or inflammation of the membrane that surrounds your heart, the American Heart Association (AHA) explains. Symptoms of acute pericarditis can come on quickly.

What can cause severe shoulder pain without injury? ›

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis and bursitis: Rotator cuff tendonitis happens when the tendons in the rotator cuff (the group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint) become irritated or damaged. ...
  • Rotator cuff tears: The same overuse that leads to tendonitis can lead to rotator cuff tears.
19 Jul 2019

Can shoulder and neck pain be related to heart problems? ›

Sudden Pain in the Arm, Neck, Jaw or Upper back

These symptoms are frequently due to a heart attack or angina, especially if they appear suddenly and are accompanied by uneasiness, breathlessness or sweating.


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