Shoulder Pain and Surgery

This page will provide you with information about shoulder pain and surgery. For further details, please speak to your consultant.

The shoulder

Three bones make up the shoulder: the collar bone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus). These bones are controlled by a number of associated muscles, ligaments and four major tendons, called the rotator cuff tendons. The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for a wide range of movement, making it the most mobile joint in the body.

What are the causes of shoulder pain?

There can be many causes of shoulder pain, often brought on by sudden, high-stress movements in sports such as tennis or swimming, or repeat movements in activities like rowing or weight lifting. Shoulder tendons are also susceptible to tear through wear, the natural aging process and the reduction of circulation to the tendons.

Rotator cuff disorders

The rotator cuff tendons can suffer from tears, as well as tendonitis and bursitis (the inflammation of tendons or the fluid-filled bursa sacs found over the joints between the tendons and bones) from repetitive over use. Common symptoms include pain when you move your arm above head or away from your body, pain on the front and side of your shoulder or pain and discomfort at night. You may also experience a clicking or snapping noise when you move your shoulder.

Shoulder instability

Although the shoulder joint is very moveable, shoulder instability can occur when the ball part of the shoulder joint does not move correctly in the socket. This can range from a slipping to a full shoulder dislocation. People with suspected shoulder instability often describe symptoms that feel like the ball of the shoulder has come out of its joint, or feelings of tingling, weakness or numbness in the shoulder. Symptoms can also include a clicking or snapping sensation when you move your shoulder.

Shoulder dislocation

With a dislocated shoulder, symptoms can include severe pain, muscle spasm, limited movement and the arm looking visibly out of place.

Frozen shoulder

Also known as adhesive capsulitis, two of the main symptoms of frozen shoulder include pain and persistent stiffness. This is caused by a flexible tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint becoming inflamed and restricting the range of movement in your shoulder. Mild symptoms of frozen shoulder have been described as an ache in the shoulder causing pain when reaching for something to severe symptoms where movement of the shoulder is severely limited.

Acromioclavicular joint disorders

Acromioclavicular joint disorders are when the acromioclavicular joint at the top of the shoulder and the ligaments can suffer from tearing or stretching.


This is a degenerative disease that can affect the shoulder joints.


Broken or fractured bones such as the humerus or collarbone can also affect the shoulder joints.

What will happen during the operation?

A CT or MRI scan can diagnose shoulder problems but ultimately an arthroscopy may be required. Also known as keyhole surgery, an arthroscopy is a surgical procedure that has greatly reduced the inpatient and recovery times for shoulder treatments.

After making up to 4 small incisions around the affected joint, surgeons will insert a small telescope attached to a video camera into one of the cuts to visually examine the area. They are then able to use surgical instruments to treat any problems inside the shoulder.

The operation usually takes around 40 minutes, and in most cases a general anaesthetic is used.


The above is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.