Physiotherapy For Shoulder Pain Articles
Comprehensive Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Chart

Comprehensive Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Chart

A shoulder pain diagnosis chart can be a valuable tool for healthcare professionals in assessing and diagnosing the cause of shoulder pain. It plays a crucial role in guiding healthcare professionals through the process of identifying, diagnosing, and treating shoulder problems, ultimately leading to better patient care and outcomes.

In this article, I will explain what a shoulder pain diagnosis chart is, the different types available, and how they can help identify the source of your shoulder pain.

What is a Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Chart?

A shoulder pain diagnosis chart is a visual tool that helps healthcare professionals identify the possible causes of shoulder pain based on the location of the pain and the accompanying symptoms. These charts are designed to be user-friendly and provide a quick reference guide for healthcare professionals to narrow down potential diagnoses.

Types of Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Chart

There are several types of shoulder pain diagnosis charts used by healthcare professionals to assess and diagnose the causes of shoulder pain. These charts may vary in complexity and specificity based on the intended use and the healthcare setting. Here are some common types:

Location-Based Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Chart

One type of shoulder pain diagnosis chart is based on the location of the pain. The shoulder joint is a complex structure consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Depending on which part of the shoulder is affected, the pain can be classified as anterior or posterior.

Anterior Shoulder Pain Diagram

Anterior shoulder pain refers to pain in the front of the shoulder. It can be caused by various conditions, such as the following:

Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is a condition characterised by inflammation of the bursa in the shoulder. When the bursa becomes inflamed, it can lead to shoulder pain and discomfort. The pain and inflammation associated with shoulder bursitis can result in a reduced range of motion in the affected shoulder, making certain movements challenging and painful.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

Rotator cuff tendinitis, also known as rotator cuff tendonitis, is a condition characterised by inflammation of the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder. This condition causes shoulder pain through inflammation and irritation of the tendons of the rotator cuff, leading to discomfort, weakness, and restricted movement.

Shoulder Dislocation

A shoulder dislocation happens when the upper arm bone's (humerus) head is pushed out of the shoulder socket (glenoid) due to trauma or injury. This leads to the separation of the shoulder joint, causing severe pain, instability, and limited mobility.

Shoulder dislocations, however, are different from shoulder separation, also known as acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation. The latter involves an injury to the ligaments that connect the acromion (part of the shoulder blade) to the collarbone (clavicle). This type of injury can result in shoulder instability and discomfort but does not involve the dislocation of the shoulder joint itself.

Rotator Cuff Tear

A rotator cuff tear is a common shoulder injury involving damage to the group of tendons and muscles that stabilise the shoulder joint. This injury can cause severe pain and limit the shoulder's range of motion. Rotator cuff tears can also cause significant pain, particularly when lifting or rotating the arm. The pain may also be present at rest, especially during sleep.

The rotator cuff muscles work in coordination to facilitate shoulder movements and maintain joint stability. When the tendons are torn, the function of these muscles can be compromised, leading to weakness and limited mobility in the shoulder.

Similarly, the rotator cuff tendons, including the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, are susceptible to tearing due to overuse, trauma, or degenerative changes in the tendon tissue.

Clavicle Fracture

A clavicle fracture, commonly known as a broken collarbone, is a break or fracture in the collarbone bone. This type of direct injury to the collarbone results in localised pain, shoulder instability, muscle spasms, and restricted arm movement.

Posterior Shoulder Pain Diagram

Posterior shoulder pain, on the other hand, refers to pain in the back of the shoulder. It can be caused by conditions such as the following:

Poor Posture

Poor posture, such as rounded shoulders and a forward head position, can lead to muscle imbalances in the upper back and shoulder region. This can cause certain muscles to become tight and overactive while others become weak and underactive, leading to pain and discomfort in the posterior shoulder area.

Prolonged poor posture can increase the strain on the muscles and soft tissues in the upper back and posterior shoulder region, leading to tension and pain. It can also contribute to nerve compression in the neck and upper back, leading to referred pain in the posterior shoulder area.

Muscle Strains

Engaging in activities that involve repetitive or strenuous use of the shoulder muscles or sudden excessive stretching of the muscles can lead to strain and subsequent pain in the posterior shoulder region. Other ways that muscle strains cause shoulder pain include muscle tears, poor body mechanics, and weakness in the shoulder muscles.

Upper Thoracic Syndrome (T4 Syndrome)

Upper Thoracic Syndrome, also known as T4 Syndrome, is a condition characterised by dysfunction or irritation of the nerves originating from the thoracic spine, specifically at the level of the fourth thoracic vertebra (T4). This can lead to referred pain in the shoulder region and other associated symptoms.

Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis, also known as glenohumeral arthritis, is a condition characterised by the degeneration of the cartilage in the shoulder joint. This degeneration can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in the affected shoulder.

Shoulder Blade Fractures

A shoulder blade fracture, also known as a scapular fracture, involves a break in the shoulder blade bone. It occurs when the bone of the shoulder blade (scapula) is broken, often due to direct trauma such as a fall or a high-impact injury.

Shoulder blade pain is a common symptom of a scapular fracture. The pain is often localised to the upper back and shoulder blade area and can be exacerbated by movement or palpation of the affected area.

Symptom-Based Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Chart

Another type of shoulder pain diagnosis chart focuses on the symptoms accompanying the pain. Shoulder pain can be accompanied by a range of symptoms, such as weakness, limited range of motion, or swelling. By analysing these symptoms, healthcare professionals can narrow down the potential causes of the shoulder pain.

Other Types of Shoulder Pain Diagnosis Charts

Different shoulder pain diagnosis charts are essential for healthcare professionals to evaluate and diagnose shoulder pain, varying based on provider preferences, clinical setting, and patient presentation. Here are other types of shoulder pain diagnosis charts commonly used in the clinic:

Specialised Condition-Specific Charts: These charts focus on specific shoulder conditions such as rotator cuff injuries, frozen shoulder, or shoulder impingement syndrome. They provide a detailed pathway for diagnosing and managing a particular shoulder condition.

Algorithm-Based Decision Support Charts: These charts use algorithms to guide healthcare providers through a series of decision points based on the patient's symptoms and examination findings. They assist in systematically narrowing down potential diagnoses and selecting appropriate diagnostic tests.

Digital Interactive Diagnosis Tools: Some healthcare facilities may utilise digital or online interactive tools that allow healthcare providers to input patient data and receive real-time guidance on shoulder pain diagnosis. These tools may integrate the latest diagnostic guidelines and evidence-based recommendations.

Ways to Diagnose Shoulder Pain

Once a healthcare professional has used the shoulder pain diagnosis chart to narrow down the potential causes, further diagnostic tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. These tests can include imaging studies such as X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound. In addition, a physical examination and a detailed medical history will also be important in making an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Pain

After a proper diagnosis has been made, treatment options for shoulder pain can be explored. The most appropriate treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the pain and the severity of the condition. Here are some common treatment options to relieve pain in your shoulders:


Medications can help relieve shoulder pain by reducing inflammation, alleviating discomfort, and addressing underlying causes of pain, but their use should be guided by a healthcare professional to ensure safety and efficacy.

Some medications that can help lessen your shoulder pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, muscle relaxants, and topical analgesics.


Corticosteroid injections can be used to reduce inflammation and provide temporary pain relief. These injections are often administered directly into the affected area of the shoulder.


Physiotherapy for shoulder pain can help relieve shoulder pain through a variety of techniques and interventions aimed at improving the strength, flexibility, and function of the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.

Physiotherapists from Phoenix Rehab can use modalities such as heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to help manage pain and reduce inflammation in the shoulder.

They can also prescribe tailored exercises and stretching regimens to improve shoulder mobility, strengthen supporting muscles, and enhance overall function. They can also provide guidance on proper posture and ergonomics to reduce stress on the shoulder joint and prevent further pain.


In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat shoulder pain. This can include procedures such as rotator cuff repair, shoulder joint replacement, or arthroscopy.

The decision to undergo shoulder surgery for pain relief should be made in consultation with an orthopaedic specialist who can assess the individual's specific condition, the severity of symptoms, and overall health to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

Some of the circumstances where surgery may be considered to address shoulder pain include:

Failure of Conservative Treatments

Severe Trauma or Injury

Chronic Conditions

Structural Abnormalities

Loss of Function

When to See a Doctor

In some cases, shoulder pain can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition that requires prompt treatment, especially if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, or chest pain. So, if you're experiencing these symptoms in addition to your shoulder pain or if you're experiencing persistent or worsening shoulder pain, it's important to seek medical attention.

Final Words

A shoulder pain diagnosis chart can be a valuable tool in helping healthcare professionals identify the possible causes of shoulder pain. By understanding the different types of charts available and how they can be used, you can better communicate with your healthcare provider and work together to find the most appropriate treatment for your shoulder pain.

Remember, early diagnosis and treatment can lead to a faster and more successful recovery. Don't hesitate to seek medical attention if you're experiencing shoulder pain that's interfering with your daily activities. Your shoulder health is too important to ignore.

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