Pain in Left Shoulder: Possible Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

When you feel a dull ache in your left shoulder, do you immediately tend to assume that it's a sign of a heart attack? If you do, know that it's a common conclusion that most individuals reach. However, pain in the left shoulder may indicate various conditions. If the condition is causing distress and interfering with normal functioning, seek professional help. 

Understanding Pain in Left Shoulder: What to Expect from a Doctor

During your consultation for shoulder pain, the doctor will follow a specific protocol as you present your complaints. They may collect information about your medical history and conduct a physical examination to better understand your shoulder pain symptoms. A general physical examination would look into swelling, tenderness, bruising, and range of motion. For a detailed shoulder view, the doctor may request imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, etc. In addition, the doctor may ask you a few questions to determine the origin or cause of left shoulder pain. 

What Are the Common Causes of Pain in Left Shoulder

As mentioned earlier, left shoulder pain is not limited to being a heart attack symptom and could be a sign of various musculoskeletal, developmental, and neurological conditions. 

Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis occurs when the bursae (tiny, fluid-filled sacs) become inflamed. The bursa cushions the tendons, bones, and muscles near the joints. Due to repetitive motion, the shoulder, elbow, and hip bursae enlarge, leading to bursitis. In addition, if the bursae are subject to direct trauma or infection, it can contribute to pain and swelling. 

Arthritis in Shoulder Joints

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are common age-related conditions leading to shoulder pain. The former involves wear and tear of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones. This leads to damaged stiffness, pain, loss of flexibility, etc. On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder characterized where the immune system attacks the body's tissues (lining of joints), leading to chronic inflammation and pain. 

Dislocation of the Shoulder

A dislocated shoulder occurs when the bone is displaced from its socket. Since the shoulder joint has the most extensive range of motion and the least stability, there are higher chances of the upper arm bone popping out of the socket. Falls, sports injuries, or other traumas can cause this condition. In addition, once a dislocation has occurred, you are highly vulnerable to multiple dislocations in the future. 

Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder, involves stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. In this condition, the capsule of connective tissue enclosing the shoulder joint thickens and tightens. This leads to restricted movement and a gradual increase in pain. Further, keeping your shoulder still for an extended period increases the risk of developing this condition. 

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff maintains the placement of the upper arm bone in its socket. However, wear and tear, repetitive overhead movements, heavy lifting, and accidents can damage these muscles, leading to severe injuries. In this case, the pain usually starts as a dull ache and rapidly worsens. 

What Are the Symptoms of Pain in Left Shoulder Blade

Paying attention to the early signs of shoulder pain is key to avoiding severe injuries or illnesses. Post this, reaching out to a doctor can help you assess the nature of the condition and overcome the pain.

Common signs of shoulder pain include:

  • Warmth or redness around the affected area
  • Neck, arm, or back pain
  • A grinding, clicking, or popping sensation when you move the arm 
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Tenderness 
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Inflammation 
  • Limited range of motion
  • Sharp pain or shooting sensation in the shoulder
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain

In the case of a dislocated shoulder, you may also notice the displaced bone jutting out of the socket. 

Treatment for Left Shoulder Pain

From home remedies to physical therapy and surgery, a wide range of treatment options can help you overcome left shoulder pain. 

Rest and Cold compress

One of the most common advice most experts give is to take some time off and let your body rest. It is necessary to give your body the time it needs to heal and avoid intense activities that may worsen the condition. As you rest, the shoulder muscles regain strength and flexibility. A simple practice you can incorporate while resting is applying a cool pack that helps reduce swelling and pain. Experts recommend using an ice pack for at least 20 minutes and avoiding direct contact with the skin. 

Physical therapy

Basic stretching and strengthening exercises, acupuncture, chiropractic care, tissue mobilization exercises, and hydrotherapy can help reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation. In chiropractic care specifically, techniques that realign and readjust the skeletal structure can help you overcome pain, tightness, and tension. Further, physiotherapists offer home services that analyze your home and suggest general lifestyle changes to improve your overall well-being. 

Gentle Stretches

Regular stretches can activate joints and muscles and increase strength and flexibility. However, a few important things to consider before engaging in any exercise are warming-up, maintaining good form, and avoiding any stretch that may strain your muscles and joints. Common stretches for left shoulder pain include a pendulum stretch and an overhead shoulder stretch. Your physiotherapist can suggest these stretches that gradually vary in intensity as you progress. 

Activity modification

Pausing your life due to this condition is not always possible or realistic. Hence, it is important to modify activities and make them more conducive to your present state to maintain daily functioning. For instance, you may have to avoid lifting heavy objects for a while, pick a pair of shoes that maintain good posture and alignment, and modify your environment to be more illness-friendly. 

Rehabilitation and Prevention

A successful recovery is signified by overcoming the condition and avoiding future injuries. This is where rehabilitation and prevention come into play. Physiotherapists suggest being consistent with stretching and strengthening exercises post-recovery as this helps build strength and improve long-term well-being. In addition to this, following preventative measures like eating healthy, avoiding smoking, and fixing your posture and form can have several long-term benefits. 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Home remedies alone cannot completely cure left shoulder pain. Hence seeking expert advice is essential to recovery. Keeping this in mind, pay attention to the following signs that emphasize the need to seek professional help.

  • Persistent pain 
  • Recurrent shoulder pain 
  • Stiffness that limits your range of motion
  • Weakness in your shoulder, arm, or hand 
  • A dislocated shoulder

Further, if you feel sudden pressure or a sharp pain in your left shoulder that travels across the chest, jaw, arm, or neck, consulting a doctor should be of high priority as it may be a sign of a heart attack. 

The Importance of Proper Treatment for Pain in the Left Shoulder

Early diagnosis and intervention play a huge role in a smooth recovery. This is true for any condition, including left shoulder pain. At Physiotattva, the team of experts is trained and certified in the latest physiotherapy treatment modalities. This experience allows them to comprehensively assess the condition and design a treatment plan that ensures a speedy recovery.   

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common causes of pain in the left shoulder?

Since the shoulder joint has the greatest range of motion accompanied by the east amount of stability, strain or overexertion of any form can lead to pain. Common causes for the same include-

  • Broken arm
  • Broken collarbone 
  • Frozen shoulder 
  • Arthritis 
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Bursitis 
  • Dislocation
  • Heart attack 

How can I tell if my left shoulder pain is serious?

If your left shoulder is swollen, tender, stiff, weak, and experiences severe pain as you move your arm, it may indicate something serious. In addition, if severe pain on the left side is accompanied by difficulty breathing and dizziness, it can be serious as these signs indicate a heart attack. 

Can I prevent shoulder pain from recurring?

There are several preventative measures to protect your shoulder from any form of injury or pain. Our experts suggest the following techniques to achieve the same result:

  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Weight-bearing exercises
  • Trying to avoid smoking 
  • Balanced diet 
  • Warm-up exercises
  • Being mindful of your posture and form

Are there any natural remedies that can help alleviate shoulder pain?

According to our experts, various natural remedies can help alleviate your shoulder pain, including 

  • Rest 
  • Ice and heat therapy 
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Incorporating calcium and vitamin-rich food in your diet 
  • Chiropractic care

Will the treatment require a follow-up with the doctor?

A follow-up would be required based on the nature and severity of the left shoulder pain. For example, with injuries that may be more likely to repeat themselves or are chronic, like dislocations, rotator cuff injuries, and arthritis, a follow-up is necessary. In addition, regular follow-ups are always conducted for those who have experienced left shoulder pain due to a heart attack.