Pain in the right shoulder and arm is often due to muscle, tendon, or ligament damage, or due to damage to the peripheral nerves in those areas. In some cases, it could be a sign of a heart attack.

Shoulder pain is the third-leading muscle and bone complaint in the United States. Researchers estimate that shoulder injuries account for 4.5 million doctor visits and $3 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S.

Sometimes, shoulder and arm pain have nothing to do with exercise or injury. Unexplained shoulder and arm pain can be a symptom of a heart attack. Often, though not always, heart-related pain affects the left side.

Read on to discover the possible causes of right shoulder and arm pain and their associated treatment options.

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Right shoulder pain varies depending on the cause. The pain may be constant or occur only when moving or lifting the shoulder. Sometimes, shoulder pain can be severe enough that it interferes with everyday activities.

Shoulder pain may be severe and sudden for injuries such as a fracture or sprain or conditions such as a frozen shoulder. Stiffness and reduced range of motion may also develop. Sometimes, shoulder pain can extend into the neck as well.

Conditions such as shoulder impingement syndrome can cause pain in the top, and outer part of the shoulder. This condition, along with tendonitis and brachial neuritis, can also cause weakness in the arm and aching at night.

If nerve damage is contributing to shoulder pain, it can cause numbness and tingling in the arm.

In some instances, gallbladder disease can cause pain in the right shoulder. This occurs in more than a third of gallbladder inflammation cases.

Learn more about gallbladder inflammation here.

The following are 8 other possible causes of right shoulder pain.

1. Swimmer’s shoulder

Swimmer’s shoulder describes a range of different shoulder injuries that may occur due to swimming. Swimmers are at increased risk of shoulder injuries due to the high number of swim-stroke repetitions they perform during training.

Injuries associated with swimmer’s shoulder include:

  • Impingement syndrome: A tendon in the shoulder rubs and catches on surrounding tissue when a person lifts their arm.
  • Labral injuries: A tear occurs in a piece of cartilage called the labrum, which sits inside the shoulder socket.
  • Shoulder instability: The structures around the shoulder joint are not effective in keeping the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: This can be caused by nerve entrapment or damage to one of the peripheral nerves, which generally causes numbness or weakness.

2. Rotator cuff tendonitis

Rotator cuff tendonitis (RCT) refers to irritation or inflammation of the rotator cuff. This condition is particularly common among elite athletes and people who regularly play certain sports.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons surrounding and supporting the shoulder joint. Together, they help hold the upper arm bone firmly in the shoulder socket.

Some causes of RCT include:

  • poor overhead throwing technique in sports such as baseball and javelin
  • direct trauma to the rotator cuff
  • falling on a straight arm

3. Overuse

Overuse can cause damage and inflammation to the muscles in the arm and shoulder. Overuse can refer to things like rotator cuff tendonitis, or muscle or ligament strain.

This can result in muscle pain and fatigue, but a person may not experience these symptoms until hours after overexerting the muscles.

A 2018 review suggests that massage therapy can be the most effective treatment for fatigued muscles.

Other techniques that may relieve muscle inflammation and fatigue include compression garments and cold-water immersion.

4. Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is an inflammatory condition in which the shoulder becomes painful and difficult to move for months or years. It occurs when the tissue around the shoulder joint stiffens.

It is unclear why a frozen shoulder occurs in some people. People aged 40–60 are most likely to develop frozen shoulder, and it is four times more common in females than males. People with a frozen shoulder may be more likely to have:

Frozen shoulder involves three stages:

  • stage 1 (freezing): The shoulder will feel painful and lose range of motion. This stage lasts from around 6 weeks to 9 months.
  • stage 2 (frozen): For around 4–6 months, pain may improve, but the shoulder will remain stiff and hard to move.
  • stage 3 (thawing): The shoulder will gradually become easier to move. However, it may take 6 months to 2 years to fully return to normal.

After experiencing a frozen shoulder, around 15% of people will develop the condition again in their opposite shoulder within 5 years.

5. Fracture

A shoulder fracture, or broken bone, may involve the collarbone, shoulder blade, or humerus (the bone extending from the shoulder to the elbow).

A broken collarbone or humerus may occur from a fall or a car accident. While a shoulder blade is more difficult to fracture, the condition can result from a high-speed car accident.

Depending on the type of fracture, symptoms may include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • limited range of motion
  • bruising

6. Sprain

A shoulder sprain occurs when a ligament in the shoulder is stretched or torn. Ligaments are the connective tissues between bones.

An acromioclavicular joint injury is a shoulder sprain where ligament damage can lead to the separation of the collarbone and the bone at the top of the shoulder, called the acromion. This condition makes up over 40% of all shoulder injuries and may result from a fall, car accident, or a sporting activity such as a skiing accident.

Symptoms may include:

  • pain that can extend to the neck
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • reduced range of motion

7. Disuse syndrome

Disuse syndrome is a general term for conditions that result from a period of immobility or physical inactivity. It typically involves muscle atrophy or wasting.

People who have recently undergone a period of bed rest are at particular risk of developing disuse syndrome.

A person may experience the following symptoms even after a short period of physical inactivity:

  • muscle stiffness
  • muscle shrinkage and wasting
  • muscles that are weak and susceptible to injury

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults perform at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.

However, some people have chronic conditions limiting their mobility or physical activity levels. People who have these conditions may find it helpful to talk with a physical therapist. They will work with the person to create an appropriate exercise program.

8. Brachial neuritis

Brachial neuritis is a type of peripheral neuropathy that affects the following parts of the body:

  • chest
  • shoulders
  • arms
  • hands

Peripheral neuropathy is a disease of the nerves that transmit signals between the central nervous system and other parts of the body. Nerve pain and a loss of function in affected body parts characterize the condition.

Usually, people with brachial neuritis experience pain and weakness in the shoulder and arm on one side of their body. In 60% of these cases, it will occur on their dominant side.

Most people will experience pain on the outside part of the shoulder. It generally comes on suddenly and may worsen at night.

After a few days, the pain may disappear. A person can then experience the following symptoms in their shoulder and arm:

  • weakness
  • changes in reflexes
  • loss of sensation

Many people associate a heart attack with pain in the left arm, though some people may feel pain in the right shoulder and arm or on both sides of the body.

Learn more about the symptoms of a heart attack here.

People should call 911 immediately if they experience unexplained arm and shoulder pain alongside any of the following symptoms:

Sports injuries, such as swimmer’s shoulder and RCT, may require medical attention if rest and ice do not alleviate symptoms. A doctor can prescribe pain relief and refer the person to a physiotherapist for further treatment.

Similarly, if other shoulder pain or stiffness develops that does not improve with rest or home treatments, it is important to see a doctor.

People with a fractured shoulder should seek urgent treatment. While minor shoulder sprains may not need medical evaluation, more severe sprains and dislocations typically require immediate treatment.

People with brachial neuritis may consult their doctor for a diagnosis and pain relief. However, there are few other treatment options available. The condition generally resolves on its own.

There are several reasons why a person may experience pain in their right shoulder and arm. In many cases, the pain will occur as a result of muscle overuse, injury, or nerve damage.

People should see a doctor if they are concerned about pain in their right shoulder and arm or if the pain is not improving. The doctor will work to diagnose the underlying issue and provide appropriate treatment.

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