Your doctor may be able to diagnose the cause of your shoulder pain by discussing your symptoms with you and examining your shoulder. In some cases, tests may be needed. As well as asking exactly where the pain is, your doctor will also need to know whether:
you have had any recent injuries
anything makes the pain feel better or worse
the pain is worse at night
the pain came on gradually or suddenly
the pain is affecting your everyday life – for example, at work or when exercising
you have any other symptoms
Your doctor will probably carry out a physical examination of your shoulder area. They will:
compare your shoulders
check for any redness, swelling or bruising
check whether your joint is dislocated (whether the joint has come out of its correct position) – if it is, your shoulder will be in an unusual position
feel your shoulder bones and joints to see whether this causes any pain
Your doctor may also ask you to do some specific arm movements – for example, placing your hands on the back of your neck and pointing your elbows out to the side. The type of movements that cause pain will help your doctor to determine the underlying cause.
Further investigations are not usually necessary. However, if you do need any imaging tests to examine your shoulder in more detail, your doctor may refer you to a hospital. You may also need some blood tests. These are explained below.
You may have a shoulder X-ray if the inside of your shoulder joint needs to be examined to rule out other damage. An X-ray uses radiation to detect problems with your bones.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the inside of your body.
A sample of your blood may be tested to rule out conditions that can cause shoulder pain or similar symptoms, such as:
polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition that inflames the tissues of the joints, causing symptoms of muscle pain and stiffness
a cancerous tumour
diabetes – a condition caused by too much glucose in the blood, which makes you more likely to develop frozen shoulder