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.
Damage to one of the main stabilising muscles of the shoulder
Causes: Acute injury e.g. heavy lifting, chronic degeneration from repetitive overhead movements or friction from bone spurs
Symptoms: Deep dull ache inside the shoulder and weakness with lifting & twisting
Find Out More: Torn Rotator Cuff
Narrowing of the bony gap in the shoulder causes damage and inflammation in the soft tissues
Causes: Bone spurs, muscle imbalance, friction from repetitive movements and overuse
Symptoms: Sharp, toothache type painful arc, weakness and restricted movement
Find Out More: Shoulder Impingement
Inflammation, thickening or tearing where the biceps tendon attaches to the front of the shoulder
Causes: Repetitive overhead activities, sudden increase in shoulder use, aging or heavy lifting
Symptoms: Deep, throbbing pain in front of shoulder, often worse at night, snapping sensation and tenderness to touch
Find Out More: Biceps Tendonitis
Thickening and scarring of the joint capsule, particularly prevalent in women aged 40-70
Causes: Shoulder injury or surgery, certain medical conditions e.g. diabetes, age and gender
Symptoms: Phase 1: worsening pain. Phase 2: pain improves but movement more restricted. Phase 3: gradual easing of symptoms.
Find Out More: Frozen Shoulder
Damage to the ring of cartilage found on the shoulder socket, the labrum
Causes: Fall, heavy lifting, repetitive overhead activities e.g. throwing or racket sports or shoulder dislocation
Symptoms: Dull aching pain at front of shoulder, instability, difficulty throwing and restricted arm movement
Find Out More: SLAP Tears
A break in the collar bone at the front of the shoulder, common in children
Causes: Falling sideways or onto outstretched arm, RTA, during birth or a direct blow
Symptoms: Visible deformity, sharp front shoulder pain, snapping noise, decreased movement and sensation
Full Article: Clavicle Fractures
Most common injury seen in swimmers
Causes: Incorrect stroke technique, muscle imbalance, overuse
Symptoms: Deep aching front shoulder pain, weakness and fatigue, joint laxity
Full Article: Swimmers Shoulder
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:
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: 09/05/2022
Next Review Due: 09/05/2024