Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: SPE Medical Review Board
Front shoulder pain, aka anterior shoulder pain, is a common problem.
It may come on gradually over time or suddenly after an injury.
There may be a general dull ache or a specific sharp pain in front of the shoulder and movement may be restricted. Sometimes the pain is linked to a specific activity such as reaching above your head, other times it may seem random.
Pain on the front of the shoulder may extend down the arm too and there may be associated symptoms such as tingling or numbness. But how do you know what is wrong? Let’s look at what causes front shoulder pain.
There are a number of different things that can cause front shoulder pain and they all present slightly differently. They may involve the shoulder muscles, one of the shoulder joints or other soft tissues.
Here you'll find a brief overview of each one and from there you can find out more about the treatment and recovery process for each.
One of the most common causes of front shoulder pain is a rotator cuff tear. This is where there is damage to one of the main stabilising muscles of the shoulder
Rotator cuff tears may be caused by an acute injury e.g. heavy lifting, chronic degeneration e.g. from repetitive overhead movements or friction e.g. from bone spurs
Typical symptoms of rotator cuff tears include a deep dull ache inside the shoulder and weakness with lifting & twisting. There may also be a sharp catching sensation with front shoulder pain when using the upper arm.
You can find out all about the common causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options in the Torn Rotator Cuff section.
Another common cause of anterior shoulder pain is shoulder impingement syndrome.
With shoulder impingement there is narrowing of the bony gap in the shoulder causes damage and inflammation in the soft tissues.
There are a number of things that can cause front shoulder pain from impingement including bone spurs, muscle imbalance, friction from repetitive movements and overuse
Common symptoms of shoulder impingement include a sharp, toothache type pain at the front of the shoulder, a painful arc with shoulder movement, weakness and restricted movement.
You can find out all about front shoulder pain from impingement including the causes, symptoms and best treatment options in the Shoulder Impingement section.
Another possible cause of front shoulder pain is biceps tendonitis.
With biceps tendonitis there is inflammation, thickening or tearing where the biceps tendon attaches to the front of the shoulder
Biceps tendonitis is usually caused by repetitive overhead activities, a sudden increase in shoulder use, aging or heavy lifting.
Typical symptoms of biceps tendonitis include a Deep, throbbing pain in front of shoulder, often worse at night, a snapping sensation with arm movements and tenderness to touch.
You can find out all about how to treat this cause of front shoulder pain in the Biceps Tendonitis section.
Frozen shoulder is a common cause of front shoulder pain, particularly prevalent in women aged 40-70.
With a frozen shoulder, there is thickening and scarring of the joint capsule, aka adhesive capsulitis.
Often the underlying cause of a frozen shoulder is unknown but they are associated with shoulder injuries or surgery, certain medical conditions e.g. diabetes, age and gender
There are three phases with frozen shoulder. Phase 1: worsening of front shoulder pain. Phase 2: pain improves but movement more restricted. Phase 3: gradual easing of symptoms.
You can find out all about how adhesive capsulitis causes front shoulder pain and how to treat it in the Frozen Shoulder section.
One of the less common causes of front shoulder pain is a SLAP tear.
With a SLAP tear there is damage to the ring of cartilage found on the shoulder socket, the labrum
SLAP tears are usually caused by a fall, heavy lifting, repetitive overhead activities e.g. throwing or racket sports or shoulder dislocation
Typical symptoms of a SLAP tear include Dull aching pain at front of shoulder, instability, difficulty throwing and restricted arm movement
You can find out all about how to reduce anterior shoulder pain from labrum tears in the SLAP Tear section.
One of the most common causes of front shoulder pain in children is a fractured clavicle.
This is when there is a break in the collar bone at the front of the shoulder.
Clavicle fractures are usually caused by falling sideways or onto outstretched arm, an RTA, or a direct blow to the shoulder, but can also occur during birth
With clavicle fractures there is often a visible deformity, sharp front shoulder pain, a snapping noise with arm movements, decreased movement and sensation.
You can find out all about the causes, symptoms and treatment options in the Clavicle Fractures section.
Swimmers shoulder is the most common injury seen in swimmers and causes front shoulder pain.
Swimmers shoulder may develop due to incorrect stroke technique, muscle imbalance or overuse, particularly if you suddenly increase your training.
Typical symptoms of swimmers shoulder include deep aching front shoulder pain, weakness and fatigue and joint laxity.
You can find out how to treat this cause of front shoulder pain in the Swimmers Shoulder section.
We have looked at the most common front shoulder pain causes, but there are a few other things it could be.
Damage to the bones or ligaments at the acromioclavicular joint (ACJ) causes front shoulder pain where the scapula meets the clavicle. ACJ injuries may develop gradually overtime due to wear and tear or suddenly due to an injury such as a fall onto the shoulder. Most ACJ injuries will heal naturally in a few weeks but more severe injuries may require surgery
Gradual wear and tear and degeneration of the shoulder cartilage can lead to restricted movement, particularly rotation and front shoulder pain. Conservative treatment such as physiotherapy and pain relief are often sufficient but is symptoms get progressively worse, then surgery may be indicated.
There are lots of different things that can cause front shoulder pain but by thinking about your specific symptoms it can be easier to work out what is going on:
The best treatment for front shoulder pain will depend on the underlying cause but will usually involve a combination of:
You can find out about the best ways to treat the different causes of front shoulder pain in the following articles
You can find out loads more about each of these causes of front shoulder pain, including what the best treatment options are for each by using the links above.
In most cases, front shoulder pain will settle down with a combination or rest, medication, physical therapy and rehab exercises. However, sometime surgery will be needed to remove abnormal bone growths or repair torn soft tissues.
If you have pain elsewhere in your shoulder or arm, visit the shoulder pain diagnosis section for help working out what is wrong.
Page Last Updated: 05/02/2023
Next Review Due: 05/02/2025
Upper Arm Pain
March 3, 2022
December 15, 2022
February 2, 2022