Shoulder Weakness? Here are 3 Possible Causes

Let's take a look at three of the most common causes of shoulder weakness, alongside treatment options to help you regain strength and restore function.

Shoulder Weakness? Here are 3 Possible Causes
Man experiencing shoulder weakness

Your shoulder is one of the most complex joints in your body and is responsible for a wide range of movements. Whether lifting, carrying, throwing, or reaching overhead, we use our shoulder joints every day.

So what do you do if weakness in your shoulder joint suddenly becomes a problem? 

Let's take a look at three of the most common causes of shoulder weakness, alongside treatment options to help you regain strength and restore function. 

Tennis player with shoulder pain and weakness

1. Rotator Cuff Tears

Many times, a torn rotator cuff is the reason behind shoulder weakness. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to stabilize it. A tear can be caused by overuse, a fall or direct blow to the shoulder, or wear-and-tear as we age.  

Symptoms often include: 

  • Weakness in the shoulder

  • Sharp shoulder pain, especially when reaching overhead 

  • Pain that wakes you up at night

  • Decreased range of motion

  • A crackling sensation when moving the shoulder

  • Swelling

Learn more about rotator cuff injuries.

Shoulder impingement is common in swimmers

2. Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons or bursa (a small fluid-filled sac that cushions the rotator cuff) are inflamed. This irritation results from the shoulder blade rubbing against or pinching the rotator cuff.  

Also known as swimmer's shoulder or thrower's shoulder, impingement is a common injury among athletes that do a lot of repetitive, overhead movements, such as swimmers or baseball players. However, it can also develop from an injury, bone spur, or degeneration as we age. 

The symptoms of shoulder impingement vary from person to person but may include the following:

  • Weakness or difficulty lifting your arm

  • Pain in the front of your shoulder that may worsen at night

  • Pain when raising your arm overhead or reaching behind you

  • Pain when lying on your affected side 

  • Stiffness in your shoulder 

Learn more about shoulder impingement.

Doctor examining man with arthritis of the shoulder

3. Arthritis

Arthritis of the shoulder occurs when the joint cartilage breaks down over time, resulting in bone-on-bone rubbing. There are several types of arthritis, but those that most commonly affect the shoulder joint include osteoarthritis, post-traumatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Symptoms of shoulder arthritis can range from mild to severe depending on the amount of cartilage loss and may include:

  • Shoulder joint pain

  • Pain that radiates down the arm

  • Shoulder stiffness

  • Reduced range of motion

  • Grinding sensation (crepitus)

  • Weakness from muscle atrophy 

Treating Shoulder Weakness

At Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, Dr. Sterett specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of shoulder injuries and conditions and will recommend a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle and activity level.

If diagnosed early enough, shoulder conditions can often be resolved or managed with conservative treatment options, including:

  • Rest - Avoid or modify activities that put stress on the shoulder

  • Shoulder sling/brace - Limits shoulder motion as it heals

  • Ice - Apply ice to the shoulder to reduce swelling and pain

  • Physical therapy - Specific exercises can help stretch and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint

  • Anti-inflammatory medication - Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and swelling

  • Steroid injections - Corticosteroid injections can ease pain and inflammation

In some cases, if your injury is too severe or conservative treatments are no longer effective, Dr. Sterett will recommend surgery to help you return to your active lifestyle. 

Expert Treatment for Shoulder Weakness in the Vail Valley

If you are experiencing pain, weakness, or stiffness in your shoulder that affects your athletic performance or day-to-day activities, it's time to schedule an appointment with Team Sterett.

Dr. Sterett is a Candidate Member of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) and one of the few physicians who have earned a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine. He and his team of shoulder experts are dedicated to getting their patients back to the activities they love and performing at the highest levels they want to be at.

Call Team Sterett today at (970) 476-7220. Same-day appointments are often available. You can also submit a request online.

(970) 476-7220