Shoulder Pain Treatment

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If your shoulder often hurts or you’ve injured it, and remedies like rest, ice, and over-the-counter medications haven’t helped, it may be time to see a specialist. Duke Orthopaedics shoulder specialists treat shoulder pain and injuries in people of all ages. We work with you to find the cause of your pain and offer the latest treatments to restore your ability to use your shoulder joint comfortably. If you’re an athlete, we’ll help you return to your sport as quickly and safely as possible.

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What to Expect When You See a Shoulder Specialist

Physical Exam/Evaluation
Your first visit will be with a member of our orthopaedic shoulder team, which includes doctors, surgeons, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. Your shoulder specialist will:

  • Take your health history, including asking about your past and current health, how long your shoulder has been hurting, how and when you injured it, and what remedies you’ve already tried
  • Examine you, asking you to move your arm and shoulder in certain ways to see if you feel pain or weakness
  • Ask how your shoulder pain is affecting your life, whether it limits your ability to perform daily activities or participate in sports, and what results you’re hoping to get from treatment
Our Orthopaedic Clinics

Duke Health orthopaedic clinics are located throughout the Triangle. Find one near you. In-person and virtual appointments are available.

Imaging Tests to Diagnose Shoulder Pain

If you’ve already had X-rays or an MRI scan, your shoulder specialist will look at the images to help identify the cause of your pain. If not, he or she may order one or more of these tests:

An X-ray lets the doctor see your bones and joints. It can help diagnose fractures, dislocations, and damage such as arthritis.
MRI scans use a magnetic field to create detailed images of your bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and cartilage. An MRI can help your doctor diagnose conditions such as a rotator cuff tear, biceps tendonitis, bursitis, or frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis).

MRI Arthrogram
A dye is injected directly into your shoulder joint before the MRI. This helps your doctor see if you have a labral tear. Your doctor may order this test if you have shoulder instability or have had a shoulder dislocation. If you dislocated your shoulder recently, a standard MRI (without dye) may be recommended.

High-frequency sound waves are used to create an image of the tendons, muscles, and other tissues in your shoulder. An ultrasound may be ordered to help screen for a rotator cuff tear if you’re unable to have an MRI.

Shoulder Pain Treatment Options

After your evaluation and imaging tests, your doctor will talk with you about your diagnosis and explain what treatments are available that may relieve your pain and improve your function. Together, you’ll decide on a personalized treatment plan based on your diagnosis, activity level, goals, and preferences.

Typically, our shoulder doctors recommend starting with nonsurgical treatment options. Nonsurgical treatment may include over-the-counter medications, prescription anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or injections, including steroids. If your condition is severe, conservative treatments haven’t helped, or you’re an athlete or worker whose sport or job places heavy demands on your shoulder, your doctor may recommend shoulder surgery.

Best Orthopaedic Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our orthopaedics program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 01/24/2022 by