Shoulder pain - When to call a doctor

Not all shoulder pain arises from the shoulder. Sometimes angina, or pain from coronary artery disease from the heart, can be referred to the shoulder. Pain from the gallbladder or diaphragm can also be felt in the shoulder region, often in the shoulder blade area. Pain from a rotator cuff injury is worsened with shoulder movement. If the unexplained shoulder pain is not affected by movement, it is reasonable to seek immediate medical care. If there is concern that the pain is coming from the heart, emergency medical services should be activated (call 911 if available).

Call your doctor if you find:

  •  the shoulder pain persists in spite of home care with rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Naprosyn)
  • shoulder problems (pain) prevent the person from performing routine daily activities or work
  • pain prevents overhead reaching (for example, reaching to get an item in a cabinet above shoulder level)
  • the pain prevents playing sports in which an overhead motion is required (for example, throwing, swinging a racquet, or swimming)


If you worry about it’s a broken bone, or if there’s numbness or change in sensation in the arm or hand, or movement in the shoulder becomes acute limited, you should call it an emergency.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.