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Shoulder Pain? 12 Signs You Need to go to the Doctor Immediately

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in August of 2020. For the original video go to

Bob: Today we’re going to talk about shoulder pain. Twelve signs you need to see the doctor immediately.  This is a little bit deceptive because, not necessarily immediately with all of these. With some of these, I would say “yes right away,” but others, the idea is that you’re going to eventually see the doctor because this is something that needs to be checked out. 

Brad: Correct.

Bob: Number 1, a recent traumatic event. Let’s say you’ve had a fall, you had a motor vehicle accident, or you’ve had an athletic injury. This is a case where you’re going to want to have someone from the medical field check you out. 

Brad: Right. You know, it’s painful, it’s swelling up, you can’t move it. There’s some other things. 

Bob: One of the reasons is, as you had mentioned earlier when we were talking Brad, there could be a fracture in there. You don’t have x-ray vision so you can’t see whether or not something may be broken, you could have a hairline fracture. 

Brad: Right, right. And then you may treat that differently as opposed to a strain or whatnot. 

Bob: Number 2, if the pain extends beyond your elbow. In other words, you have shoulder pain and it’s going down your arm. If it goes to the elbow, that’s not atypical. But, if it goes into the forearm, wrist, and hand, and especially if you have numbness and tingling there’s a good possibility you might have a neck problem. That’s where you need to have a professional take a look at you. 

Brad: Right. There is a good chance the problem may be in the shoulder, but also, or it all could be in the low neck.  I’ve had patients where their shoulder hurts and I treated their neck and it was the neck. So, that possibility exists. 

Bob: Or vice versa. Number 3, if you’re having inability to move the arm or the joint

Brad: So, if you try to lift up your arm and all you can do is this or that (can barely lift it) you

need to go in.

Bob: There are a lot of things that might be going on. It might be a rotator cuff tear, but it could be other things too. So, we just want to make sure. Number 4, you have signs of infection. So there’s swelling, the skin of the shoulder is warm, or hot to touch, the shoulder’s red and inflamed. You know, extreme pain is felt.

Brad: Right. You’ve got a temperature. It’s a good idea to check your temperature. That’s a strong indication that you have an infection. Unless you have the flu or something. 

Bob: It’s funny, Brad, I had inflammation in my long thoracic nerve, a long time ago when I was in my twenties and I don’t know why that happened. But, I would have taken cocaine if you would have given it to me, because that pain was so bad. And it was constant. I mean, no matter what I did, no matter how I laid down. So, anyway, that’s on the side. Number 5, you are feeling unwell in association with the shoulder pain. So, you’re feeling bad overall and you’re having the shoulder pain. Could be something else. You know again, we are not medical doctors. We don’t want to get into that area. But there are other things that it could be. 

Brad: Sure.


Bob: Number 6, you’ve had a previous history of cancer or tumor. There’s a type of cancer

that actually gives you shoulder pain. The reason I know is I’ve seen this but also, unfortunately, my sister called me just this past week and they have a good friend that was having shoulder pain. He was watching our videos. Then he went to work, he works construction, he broke his shoulder. They found out there was a tumor in his shoulder. 

Brad: Oh, so the bone was weakened. 

Bob: Not to scare people, but it’s something to be aware of, especially if you’ve got a history of cancer already. Make sure you get it checked out. Number 7, if you have chest pain or a history of cardiac or heart problems. Not unusual for heart problems to manifest themselves: you could have it in the throat, the chest, you can feel it definitely down the arm and in the shoulder. 

Brad: Right, right. That referral pain is very typical. Often times if you’re not using your shoulder but you’re walking or your heart rate is going up and it refers pain to your chest, get that checked out. 

Bob: That’s a sign. Number 8, you have nighttime pain that’s impeding you sleep. Also, I’m always a little bit worried about nighttime pain that lasts a long time too. I mean, you might have irritated your shoulder during the day and so it continues into the night or it swells into the night. Or if you’re lying on your shoulder. There’s a good reason right there that it’s going to hurt. 

Brad: Right, yeah. If you wake up, you could have been lying on it, well that makes sense. But if you have no reason for the pain get it checked out. 

Bob: Number 9, you have swelling, bruising, or discoloration of the shoulder. Like, if you’ve had a traumatic event and a lot of times when you have bruising or discoloration, that means it was a little more serious. Something was torn or something was broken. So, that's why we give you that recommendation. Number 10, if you’ve had shoulder surgery in the past six to 12 months and you suddenly start having shoulder pain, you should see your orthopedic doctor to see what’s going on there. Number 11, if you have a history of dislocating your shoulder. And this is often, with a lot of younger people who can easily dislocate their shoulder. 

Brad: Right, with hypermobility. 

Bob: Right their hypermobile, and that type of thing you want to see the doctor. Unfortunately, if you tend to dislocate your shoulder a lot and you’re younger than 20 or even 25, I believe, they usually recommend surgery, Brad, because it’s just going to keep happening. 

Brad: Right, if it pops out, it’s painful and it pops back in and that’s getting worse over time, yeah. 

Bob: So, number 12, this is certainly one of those that isn’t an emergency, but if you have neck or upper back pain with the shoulder pain. But if your pain is here (see picture) that’s not really shoulder, that’s more neck. 

Brad: More than likely, right. 

Bob: So, in that instance you may what to have someone that really knows what they’re doing, trying to pinpoint what’s going on. 

Brad: Right, exactly. 

Bob: That’s it folks. Check out the rest of our video series on shoulder pain. 

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