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Most Common Cause of Shoulder Pain in Elderly

Posted On 21-02-2024

Shoulder pain is a prevalent health concern among the old population, often leading to decreased mobility, impaired quality of life, and increased healthcare utilization. While there are various reasons why seniors may experience shoulder discomfort, one underlying cause stands out as the primary culprit.

As people get older the bones and joints start to wear down. In such cases, the body is more prone to problems like fractures or joint diseases. When these issues happen, our bodies need extra calcium to help fix them, and sometimes it takes calcium from our blood, which can affect areas like our shoulders.

Understanding Shoulder Pain in the Elderly

Shoulder problems can arise with age and can cause discomfort among old people. About 21% of elderly folks have these issues. Women (25%) tend to have these problems more than men (17%). Even though not everyone with shoulder pain sees a doctor, it can affect their daily life, how they feel about their health and their mood.

The most common reasons for shoulder pain in older people are problems with the soft tissues, like issues with the rotator cuff or arthritis in the shoulder joint. But the good news is, these problems can often be treated, which can help people feel better and have a better quality of life.

Cause of Shoulder Pain

Before we understand the cause of shoulder pain in the elderly, it is important to understand the unique challenges concerning shoulder health faced by the older section. Age brings about many changes in the musculoskeletal system, including decreased muscle mass, reduced joint flexibility, and alterations in cartilage composition.

These age-related changes make the elderly more prone to shoulder injuries and conditions that can result in chronic pain and discomfort.

Many factors contribute to shoulder pain in older adults, ranging from degenerative conditions to acute injuries. These may include:

Rotator Cuff Tears - It's when a tendon in your shoulder, called the rotator cuff, tears either a little bit or all the way. This tear can happen suddenly, like if you fall on your arm, or it can happen gradually from doing the same motion over and over again. As people age, the tendons of the rotator cuff may degenerate, leading to tears and inflammation.

Treatment - At first, treatment usually involves a good amount of rest, applying ice on the area, and maybe taking over-the-counter pain pills and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Doctors often recommend physical therapy too.

Osteoarthritis - If there is a deep ache in the back of your shoulder, it could mean you have osteoarthritis. This discomfort results from the breakdown of cartilage, the cushioning substance that surrounds the ends of your bones. As osteoarthritis gets worse, your shoulder can feel stiff, making it hard to reach behind your back. You might find it tough to scratch your back or put on a belt. The most common symptom is joint pain in areas like the hands, neck, lower back, knees, or hips.

Treatment - The Treatment for osteoarthritis is similar to that of a rotator cuff tear. If the condition gets bad, you might need surgery which involves the replacement of the shoulder joint. It's similar to when people get their hips or knees replaced.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis) - Adhesive Capsulitis also known as frozen shoulder occurs when the tissue in your shoulder joint thickens and gets stiff, making it hard to move your arm without a ton of pain. And if you stop moving your arm, the problem gets worse. Eventually, your shoulder feels like it's stuck in one position, which is why they call it a frozen shoulder.

While the exact cause of frozen shoulder is not known, it is seen more commonly in people over 40 and those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes.

Treatment - It is important to note that a frozen shoulder can last for months, even with lots of treatment. Doing exercises and stretches to move the shoulder can help ease the symptoms. If your shoulder gets stiff after not moving it for a while, like when you wear a sling after breaking your arm, that's not the same as a true frozen shoulder. Stiffness after an injury usually gets better pretty fast with physical therapy.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome - If you have a rotator cuff problem, you might also be prone to a condition called shoulder impingement syndrome. The swelling from the rotator cuff issue can make your muscles and tendons rub or get pinched in a tight space which leads to pain and irritation.

Treatment - With physical therapy, rest, ice, and NSAIDs, symptoms usually get better in a few weeks to months.


Shoulder pain is quite common among the old people. Since many injuries happen because of everyday wear and tear, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Our shoulders go through a lot in our daily activities. But if the pain starts getting in the way of simple tasks, Then it's high time to get it checked out. Usually, a combination of physical therapy, rest, and home treatments can help fix the problem.

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Baby Das

Last one year I was suffering from acute shoulder pain on my left shoulder. I went to several doctors, but not diagnosed.

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