What Causes a Decrease in the Range of Motion & Severe Pain in the Shoulder?

Your shoulder joint can move throughout a large range of motion, working through flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and rotation. When you lose this range of motion, activities of daily living can be particularly difficult. If you experience pain along with a loss of range of motion, life can be that much harder. Many conditions involving your shoulder can lead to pain and decreased range of motion.

A doctor is working with a patient's shoulder. Credit: Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Rotator Cuff Tear

The shoulder joint consists of your collarbone, shoulder blade and upper arm. You move your shoulder by rotating the top of the upper arm bone around within a capsule. Surrounding that capsule is a group of tendons that meet to form the rotator cuff. When you experience a rotator cuff tear, it means that there is a full or partial tear in one of the tendons. This can begin as the tendon deteriorates, or it can happen all at once such as when you suffer a sports-related injury. Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are pain and weakness in the shoulder and a reduction in range of motion when lifting or rotating the arm.


Among the rotator cuff, there are bursa -- or small sacs -- meant to lubricate the joint. In the case of an impingement, the end of the clavicle narrows the space between it and your upper arm. This can cause your rotator cuff and bursa to become pinched. This results in both pain and a reduction in range of motion, specifically when lifting your arm. Other symptoms can include swelling and local tenderness.

Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder is typically the result of an immobilized shoulder joint for a prolonged period of time. This occurs when the tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue of the shoulder harden and thicken. This makes you unable to move your shoulder and can become very painful. Frozen shoulder begins with pain that results in a decrease in your shoulder's range of motion; over time, this worsens and becomes a frozen shoulder.


The course of treatment is similar for each shoulder condition. Pain is treated with medications such as ibuprofen or stronger prescription pain relievers. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may or may not need surgery. After surgery, or instead of, physical therapy is the next step. Working with a physical therapist, you will increase your range of motion and strengthen the joint. This occurs through joint manipulation and specialized exercises.

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