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Hand and Shoulder Pain Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

As you sit at your desk and type for long hours, have you felt an odd ache in your shoulders and hands? Some people describe it as cramps and others may call it numbness. Various factors contribute to this discomfort. Keeping these factors in mind, several forms of treatment are also used to cope with and prevent hand and shoulder pain. 

A Brief Overview of Common Hand and Shoulder Pain Complaints

Studies suggest a wide range of hand and shoulder pain complaints. We commonly experience a slight ache or tingling sensation which may worsen into severe pain that radiates across the neck, head, arms, and back. Like any condition, aging makes you more likely to suffer from these illnesses. Hence paying attention to the signs and seeking help is essential to achieve a smooth recovery. 

Symptoms of Hand and Shoulder Pain


Excessive stress, tension, and strain on the muscles and joints of the shoulders and hands can lead to stiffness and limit the range of motion. Further, a tight shoulder is a major trigger point for hand pain. Some common muscles in the shoulder that can lead to hand pain include the latissimus dorsi, the rotator cuff muscles, the serratus anterior and the pectoral muscles. In addition to this, stiffness in the hands and shoulders could be a common symptom of several underlying clinical/age-related conditions.


Swelling or inflammation can result from autoimmune conditions, high salt levels, allergic reactions, and injuries. Studies also suggest that increased stress or anxiety levels can contribute to inflammation in different parts of the body, including the hands and shoulders. For shoulder pain, inflammation around the rotator cuff is a common symptom. In addition to the obvious sign of swelling, inflammation can also be seen as redness, heat, loss of motion, and tenderness. If untreated, inflammation can worsen, leading to joint disfigurement, blood vessel disease, neck and spine problems, and disability.  


Shoulder and hand pain can be generally detected by the degree of muscle strength or grip strength. Commonly weakness is indicated by a weak rotator cuff in the shoulder or deteriorating neurons in hand. During physical examinations, the doctor may ask you to lift your arm to the side, rotate it backward, rotate it inwards, and press back against an object. These tests detect the degree of weakness in the shoulders. Hence, weakness may be a prominent symptom if you have shoulder pain and struggle with these tasks. Similarly, a weak grip, clumsiness, or inability to carry otherwise manageable items can be a sign of weakness in the hands, leading to pain. 

Numbness and tingling sensation 

Numbness in hand is a common symptom of both hand and shoulder pain. This numbness is caused by damage to a network of nerves called the brachial plexus. This network originates near the top of the spine and runs down the shoulder, arms, and hands. The sensation need not be across the whole hand or shoulder; it can be felt at certain points alone. For instance, numbness in hand could be felt only in the thumb or specific fingers. 


One of the most common complaints of any underlying physiological condition is pain. With the shoulder and hands, this pain could be located at the point of injury or can radiate across both regions. It may be accompanied by a fever if you are dealing with severe shoulder or hand pain. In addition to this, based on the origin, hand or shoulder pain can last more than 2 to 4 weeks post-home care. 

Causes of Hand and Shoulder Pain

Broken bones

An injury leading to fractures or broken bones in the shoulder or hand is accompanied by severe pain, inflammation, and bruising. For shoulder pain, common injuries associated with broken bones include an upper arm fracture or a broken collarbone. Falls, car accidents, etc., usually cause these conditions. In the case of hand pain, any damage to the intricate and delicate structure can lead to multiple forms of fracture. Further, as these fractures heal, additional strain will permanently change the structure and functionality of the region. 


Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis are common causes of hand and shoulder pain. As you age, the joints and muscles tend to wear and tear, resulting in pain, weakness, inflammation, stiffness, mobility issues, etc. In addition to general wear and tear, the immune system is responsible for decaying joints (rheumatoid arthritis). Although osteoarthritis in the shoulders is rare, the pain and severity of the condition are long-term. 


The muscles in our body are connected to our bones through cords referred to as tendons. Inflammation of these tendons due to excessive strain or other medical conditions can lead to tendinitis. In the shoulder, overaccumulation of calcium around the rotator cuff (calcific tendinitis) leads to pain, stiffness, inflammation, and limited range of motion. Tendonitis can also affect the hand. For instance, in De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, the tendons around your thumb get severely inflamed leading to pain and numbness. 


A dislocation is an injury in which the ends of your bones are displaced from their normal positions. This may be a result of accidents, falls, or overexertion. With shoulder pain, the head of the upper arm bone moves out of the socket, resulting in the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the shoulder loosening or tearing. This leads to repeated dislocations and increases the risk of arthritis. In the hands, one of the eight carpal bones at the base of the hand falls out of the joints leading to dislocation. Displacement of this form leads to pain, tenderness, bruising, spasms, and swelling. 

Nerve entrapment

Nerve compression syndrome or nerve entrapment is when the peripheral nerve loses mobility and flexibility or gets compressed by surrounding tissues. This can cause neuropathic or neurogenic pain (acute or chronic). Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common types of nerve entrapment, where a narrowing carpal tunnel compresses the median nerve. The compressed nerve leads to numbness, inflammation, and pain around the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Similarly, a pinched nerve or cervical radiculopathy refers to a compressed nerve in the neck leading to severe shoulder pain. 

Treatment for Hand and Shoulder Pain

With various factors causing hand and shoulder pain, taking the necessary measures to cope with the symptoms and reduce the risk of future injuries is important. 


As most experts suggest, taking time off and resting your body can work wonders for hand and shoulder pain. Hence it is important to avoid any physical activity that can contribute to pain and prevent achieving a full recovery. With daily tasks and activities that cannot be avoided, modifying them in ways that can reduce strain is essential.  

Ice and heat therapy

Cold compressions and heat therapy are most commonly used to reduce inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Applying an ice pack for around 20 minutes at least five times a day can do the trick. However, avoiding applying the pack directly to the skin is highly recommended. After this, you can apply heat packs or place hot water bottles at the point of injury for around 15 minutes. Alternating between both creates a pumping action in the circulatory system leading to reduced swelling. 

Over-the-counter pain medication

Doctors mainly prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, and muscle relaxants to cope with these conditions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) lowers pain and inflammation. This is especially beneficial for rotator cuff injuries, arthritis, and tendonitis. Pain medications or topical pain-relief gels and creams can also help ease pain and give you better sleep. However, it may accompany side effects (stomach pain, heartburn, etc.). In addition to this, spasms and muscle tension can be treated by muscle relaxants. 

Physical therapy

Physiotherapy is considered to be one of the most effective approaches to treating pain. Since the techniques are not drug dependent or surgical, there are minimal side effects. Our advanced modalities, including stretching and strengthening exercises, acupuncture, chiropractic care, electrotherapy, and hydrotherapy, help achieve a speedy recovery. Further, you can learn to improve your lifestyle and well-being with at-home physical therapy. 


For severe shoulder or hand injuries, surgery may be recommended. Surgery may focus on removing scar tissue or rebuilding or replacing bones based on the condition. Common conditions requiring surgery include cartilage tears, rotator cuff injuries, frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, fractures, and severe arthritis. Post-surgery, seeking physical therapy to cope with pain and improve strength and functionality is essential. 

Importance of Addressing Hand and Shoulder Pain Promptly

The next time you struggle with shoulder or hand pain, seek professional help. Ignoring these conditions is never the solution, as it may lead to long-term consequences. At Physiotattva, the experts focus on gaining a comprehensive diagnosis and designing a treatment plan that works for you. 

Frequently Asked Question

What are the most common causes of hand and shoulder pain?

The most common causes of hand and shoulder pain include arthritis, broken bones, nerve entrapment, dislocation, and tendinitis. These conditions can develop with age or as a result of accidents.

What are the symptoms of hand and shoulder pain?

In most cases, hand and shoulder pain are diagnosed by the following symptoms

  1. Inflammation
  2. Stiffness
  3. Bruising
  4. Weakness 
  5. Numbness or tingling sensation 
  6. Tenderness
  7. Limited range of motion

What is the home remedy for arm and shoulder pain?

As suggested by our excerpts, common home remedies for arm and shoulder pain include rest, ice and heat therapy, massages, gentle stretches, and pain medication. However, it is important to seek professional help when needed compared to being completely dependent on home remedies. 

Is it necessary to see a doctor for hand and shoulder pain?

It is necessary to see a doctor for hand and shoulder pain. Several home remedies only provide temporary relief. Hence achieving a complete recovery and reducing the risk of future injuries is only possible through medical consultations. 

Can shoulder pain go down to your hand?

It is common for shoulder pain to radiate across the body, especially along the hand. Damage or strain to various shoulder muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, the serratus anterior, the rotator cuff muscles, and the pectoral muscles, can lead to hand pain.

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