Symptoms A-Z

Pain in Both Shoulders Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your pain in both shoulders symptoms, including 8 causes and common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 8 Possible Pain In Both Shoulders Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  6. Statistics
  7. References

Pain In Both Shoulders Symptoms

Shoulder pain is one of the most common reasons for a person to visit a doctor [1]. The shoulder joints are very versatile, flexible, and mobile, but these traits also leave them vulnerable to injury. Due to the configuration of your nervous system, your shoulders may also register pain that actually comes from other parts of the body [2]. This means that pain in one or both shoulders should not be ignored, especially if it seems to be happening for no apparent reason.

Common characteristics of pain in both shoulders are

If you are experiencing pain in both shoulders, it is likely it can be described by the following.

Who is most often affected by pain in both shoulders

People who fit the following descriptions are likely to experience pain in both shoulders at some point.

  • People who do hard labor: Those doing strenuous physical work such as digging, cutting wood, or moving heavy objects.
  • Athletes: Such as people who play baseball, tennis, or other sports involving overhead throwing or hitting.
  • Weightlifters
  • Anyone with disease of the heart, liver, or gallbladder
  • Anyone who has suffered a heart attack

Is pain in both shoulders serious?

The severity of pain in both shoulders is ultimately dependent on the cause.

  • Not serious: Shoulder pain that comes on gradually and improves with rest is probably not serious.
  • Moderately serious: Shoulder pain caused by an acute injury can usually heal quite well if treated right away.
  • Serious: Sudden, severe pain in both shoulders that seems to have no apparent cause can be very serious and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Pain In Both Shoulders Causes

Many conditions can have pain in both shoulders as a symptom. The most common are those involving injury, illness, or "referred pain" from other diseases.

Most common cause types

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: This is likely due to stress and/or poor posture. This is especially common if you spend long hours sitting at a desk or bending over a table or assembly line.
  • Chronic overuse injury: This means you make the same motion with the shoulder over and over again. This includes activities such as swinging tennis rackets, hitting baseballs, or lifting weights [3]. This can eventually result in a sprain, strain, tear, or other damage to the joints, tendons, muscles, and bursa.
  • Trauma: This can be due to a fall, automobile accident, or acute sports injury.

Less common cause types

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

  • Autoimmune diseases: These often cause repeated episodes of inflammation. This will eventually damage cartilage and bone and cause chronic pain.
  • Neurologic diseases: These damage the nerves and cause neuropathic pain [4].
  • Severe infections of the bones or cartilage

Rare & unusual cause types

The following are rare causes of pain in both shoulders.

  • Aging: This can lead to degenerative diseases of the bone and cartilage of the neck and shoulders.
  • Referred pain: This means the pain actually starts in another part of your body but is felt in the shoulders. For example, in rare cases, pain in both shoulders can be referred from tumors elsewhere in the body.

Pain in both shoulders that is accompanied by the following can also signify more unusual causes.

  • Tingling in the arm and hand: This can probably be traced to your neck.
  • Tightness and discomfort in the arms: This may be due to heart disease. This is considered a medical emergency even if there is no chest pain with it [5].
  • Pain in the right upper abdomen: This can be due to liver or gallbladder disease.

8 Possible Pain In Both Shoulders Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced pain in both shoulders. 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 rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms include shoulder pain that may get worse with movement or while sleeping, shoulder stiffness or limited mobility, as well as warmth, redness, or swelling of the shoulder area.

Treatment depends on the severity of your discomfort but may include rest, methods to alleviate pain, exercises to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder, steroid injections, and surgery.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: spontaneous shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder, swollen shoulder

Symptoms that always occur with shoulder arthritis: spontaneous shoulder pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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

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

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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.

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

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.

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 attacking foreign pathogens mistakenly begins attacking the own body's tissues. In adults, RA is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis caused by autoimmunity.

RA is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints (synovium). This immune activity results in inflammation in the synovium that causes it to thicken and expand. The thickening destroys the cartilage and bone of the joint and causes the tendons and ligaments of the joint to weaken and stretch.

Over time, the cartilage loss continues, the space between bones becomes smaller, and eventually the joint becomes loose, painful and unstable. As the condition becomes more advanced, RA can also affect multiple organ systems, including the eyes, skin, lungs and the cardiovascular system.

Diagnosis is through physical examination, blood tests, and X-rays.

Treatments include lifestyle modifications, several classes of medications, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Pain In Both Shoulders Treatments and Relief

At-home treatment

You can try the following treatments for pain in both shoulders at home.

  • Apply heat or ice to the painful joints
  • Take over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) or aspirin to ease pain
  • Work on improving posture when you're sitting and standing
  • Move thoughtfully: Do exercises given to you by your medical provider or physical therapist to improve strength and flexibility.
  • Address weight and overall health: Change your diet and exercise habits to lose any excess weight, which will allow freedom of movement and ease the stress on your joints.

When to see a doctor

You should consult your physician to address the following.

  • If the pain worsens with rest: Severe pain and stiffness in both shoulders that is worse with rest and better with activity, especially if you also have flu-like symptoms, should be examined by a physician.
  • Pain that does not improve within two weeks

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You have pain, pressure, tightness, or other discomfort in both shoulders and both arms, even if you do not have chest pain
  • You have severe, constant, intractable pain in both shoulders, for no apparent reason
  • You suffer an injury that results in pain in both shoulders, even with no outer sign of trauma

Prevention

Pain in both shoulders can best be prevented by being mindful of your posture, especially if you must remain still throughout the day for longer periods of time, such as if you are a student or professional. Take breaks for a few minutes every hour to stretch and change positions and to help release tense muscles. Maintaining a regular exercise regimen with proper techniques can also go a long way toward your overall health.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain In Both Shoulders

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • 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?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Pain In Both Shoulders Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced pain in both shoulders have also experienced:

  • 5% Pain In The Back Of The Neck
  • 4% Shoulder Pain
  • 2% Pain In The Upper Arm

People who have experienced pain in both shoulders were most often matched with:

  • 42% Shoulder Arthritis
  • 42% Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis Of The Shoulder)
  • 14% Non-Specific Shoulder Pain

People who have experienced pain in both shoulders had symptoms persist for:

  • 36% Over a month
  • 23% Less than a week
  • 19% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Pain In Both Shoulders Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Mitchell C, Adebajo A, Hay E, Carr A. Shoulder pain: Diagnosis and management in primary care. BMJ. 2005;331(7525):1124-1128. NCBI Link
  2. Blahd WH Jr, Husney A, Romito K, Messenger D, eds. Referred shoulder pain. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated September 20, 2018. U of M Health Link
  3. Yang J, Tibbetts AS, Covassin T, Cheng G, Nayar S, Heiden E. Epidemiology of overuse and acute injuries among competitive collegiate athletes. J Athl Train. 2012;47(2):198-204. NCBI Link
  4. Colloca L, Ludman T, Bouhassira D, et al. Neuropathic pain. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017;3:17002. NCBI Link
  5. Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association. Updated June 30, 2016. AHA Link