This week sees one of our resident physio’s Gail tackle the issue of deciding when might be the right time to seek help for your shoulder complaint. Remember that all advice given on these blogs is purely for education and not intended to help diagnose or manage conditions – we strongly advise people to seek a professional medical opinion.

The Shoulder ‘Complex’!

As mentioned in last week’s blog, the shoulder complex is, well…complex! Within the region itself, there are a vast amount of different structures that can become irritated and cause a person to experience pain. Each of these structures presents with different patterns of symptoms upon irritation a thorough examination by a medical professional – that includes us – can help to assess the most likely cause of these symptoms.

Most common structures keep the pain localised to a specific region, but can sometimes refer pain to other nearby regions of the body such as the neck or the upper arm. Sometimes it can radiate into the shoulder blade or down the arm and even to the hand, but typically does not progress below the forearm.

To complicate matters further, nearby tissues can mimic shoulder pain, such as from the neck, upper back and chest. Given the close proximity to major organs that can also refer pain to the shoulders such as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys to name a few, we think its important to take pain in this region seriously.

So…when should I seek help?


You should seek help immediately from A+E if you experience:

  • Severe localised pain or substantial loss of movement following a traumatic injury such as a fall or collision
  • Severe pain symptoms that may appear in other areas such as the chest or stomach – this may even require a 999 emergency call

You should seek help from your GP if you have shoulder pain which does not respond to advice such as regular movement, exercises and pain relief medication after two weeks, or if you feel systemically unwell. This includes signs such as:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as general aches and unease (known as malaise) that cannot be explained
  • Night pain
  • Tiredness and fatigue that cannot be explained
  • Unexplained weight loss

If none of the above apply or if recommended by medical professional after attending A&E/hospital or your GP surgery, you should seek help from a physiotherapist, particularly if you experience:

  • Difficulty reaching behind your back or elevating your arm overhead due to pain or stiffness
  • ‘Locking’ or ‘catching’ in the joint, or if the joint feels unstable
  • Changes in sensation such as ‘pins-and-needles’, tingling or numbness
  • Changes in power or strength to the shoulder
  • Pain or symptoms which are limiting your normal day-to-day activity

Thanks Gail!

Share this with someone who you think needs to see this – we’ve helped you out by posting it on our Facebook and Instagram pages too. And do get in touch if you are struggling with your shoulder and let’s talk about how we can help

Website Admin

Author Website Admin

Website administrator for the Balmoral Physio website.

More posts by Website Admin

Leave a Reply