Read below about swollen shoulder, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your swollen shoulder from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Swollen Shoulder Symptoms

Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Fluid buildup can occur when an area of the body becomes inflamed, injured or damaged. The small blood vessels in the body begin to leak fluid. Moreover, the body can bring in white blood cells to repair the damage, and more fluid follows. Depending on the cause, the swelling can be generalized and occur throughout the body, or localized and only affect a specific part of the body (edema).

A swollen shoulder is often associated with trauma or injury. Take note of the associated symptoms below if you think you may be experiencing a swollen shoulder:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Bruising in the shoulder area
  • Warmth or redness of the affected area
  • Limited range of motion
  • Decreased strength
  • Feeling of instability in the shoulder
  • A visibly deformed or out-of-place shoulder

Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect shoulder swelling as it is often a sign of an underlying injury or chronic condition.

Swollen Shoulder Causes Overview

The shoulder is a very mobile joint and vulnerable to injury. The shoulder joint consists of the shoulder blade (scapula), the collarbone (clavicle) and the bone of the upper arm (humerus). The head of the humerus sits in a socket of the scapula (glenoid). There is a ring of tissue that surrounds the glenoid socket (labrum) that keeps all of these pieces in place.

See this image for a visual representation.

Any condition that causes inflammation, injury or damage to this system can result in shoulder swelling.

Trauma/Injury Related Swollen Shoulder Causes

Any activities that cause direct trauma to the shoulder area can result in these swollen shoulder symptoms. Traumatic injuries include:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • A direct blow to the shoulder that results from a motor vehicle accident or even falling from a bicycle
  • A sudden, forceful pull. For example, when trying to lift a heavy object from the ground.
  • Displacement or dislocation of the system of bones, sockets and tissue of the shoulder, causing the shoulder to feel as if it has popped out of place.

Overuse

Activities that cause repetitive shoulder motions such as tennis or weightlifting can cause overuse injury to the shoulder joint. Repetitive overhead motions you may perform at work can also cause such overuse injuries and lead to symptoms of swelling and pain.

Aging

  • Normal wear and tear. Wear and tear over a long period of time can weaken the shoulder joint. As a result, patients over the age of 40 are more susceptible to such swollen shoulder symptoms. With advanced age, the greater the exposure to situations that weaken the shoulder system and breakdown of the tissues and ligaments surrounding the joint.
  • Rheumatologic Swollen Shoulder Causes. This category includes inflammatory conditions involving the body's tissues and joints that often affect patients of older age. Conditions such as arthritis cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Swollen Shoulder

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced swollen shoulder. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Psoriatic Arthritis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who have psoriasis also get a form of arthritis (inflammation and swelling of joints) called psoriatic arthritis.

    This type of arthritis can be managed with treatment, and permanent damage can be prevented. However, the underlying cause (psoriasis) is currently incurable.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain, lower back pain, joint pain, upper back pain, hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Shoulder Arthritis

    Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Any joint in the body may be affected by the disease, including the shoulder joint.

    Shoulder arthritis is a chronic problem once it develops.

    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
  4. 4.Septic Arthritis

    Septic arthritis is an intensely painful joint infection.

    12-14 days with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, spontaneous shoulder pain, chills, knee pain, joint pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Swollen Shoulder Checker

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  5. 5.Acromioclavicular (Ac) Shoulder Joint Injury

    The shoulder is made up of three bones - the shoulder blade (scapula), collar bone (clavicle), and arm bone (humerus). The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is a joint that is in the front of the shoulder, where the collar bone and shoulder blade meet. This joint is stabilized by ligaments, which can tear if the two bones are separated from one another. This is most commonly caused by falling on the shoulder.

    Pain goes away in 3 weeks in most cases (6-12 weeks for more severe injuries)

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, difficulty moving the shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with acromioclavicular (ac) shoulder joint injury:
    shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, constant shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Shoulder Strain

    Shoulder strain, also known as a muscle pull, is a common occurrence attributed to a damaged muscle and often is the result of heavy lifting or sports.

    With proper medical attention, this condition should fully resolve.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder pain from an injury, sports injury
    Symptoms that always occur with shoulder strain:
    pain in one shoulder
    Symptoms that never occur with shoulder strain:
    arm weakness, arm numbness
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Biceps Tendon Rupture

    The biceps is the muscle in the front of the upper arm. Its main action is to flex the arm. The biceps muscle collects in a tendon that inserts into the radius (one of the bones of the forearm). Sometimes, if lifting something heavy or rapidly putting weight on the arm, the biceps tendon may pull away from the bone. Biceps tendon ruptures are classified as either partial or complete ruptures, depending on if the tendon pulled away only somewhat, or completely.

    Full recovery within weeks to months after surgery, with no lasting deficits.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night
    Symptoms that always occur with biceps tendon rupture:
    pain in the front of the shoulder, pain in one shoulder
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Shoulder Bruise

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the shoulder are common, given how exposed this area of the body is.

    Bruises begin to heal within one week.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder injury, swelling of one shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with shoulder bruise:
    shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder injury, constant shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Swollen Shoulder Treatments and Relief

If you experience shoulder swelling or any of these associated symptoms, make an appointment with your physician to get appropriate swollen shoulder treatment. Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor may suggest:

  • Repositioning. If your swelling is due to a dislocation injury, your physician may first attempt to reposition the upper arm back into the shoulder socket. This is usually done with IV sedation in an emergency department or urgent care setting for acute dislocations.
  • Immobilization (Sling). Your doctor may use a sling to keep your shoulder from moving.
  • Physical Therapy or Rehabilitation. Your physician may prescribe stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore range of motion, strength and stability to your shoulder, especially after injury.
  • Rheumatologic Medications. There are many types of medications that combat rheumatologic conditions that may be causing your swollen shoulder symptoms.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Shoulder

  • Q.Is your swollen area warm and red?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your shoulder pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our swollen shoulder symptom checker to find out more.

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Swollen Shoulder Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen shoulder have also experienced:

    • 15% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 10% Swollen Upper Arm
    • 9% Swollen Forearm
  • People who have experienced swollen shoulder had symptoms persist for:

    • 33% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Over a Month
    • 19% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced swollen shoulder were most often matched with:

    • 33% Psoriatic Arthritis
    • 33% Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • 33% Shoulder Arthritis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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