Osteopaths don’t just treat backs! We can work on any joint in the body, including the shoulder and elbow. In both joints there are a number of tissues that can cause pain and only a few are covered in this post. If you have pain in the arm that doesn’t fit any of these descriptions, we can still help.

Causes of Shoulder pain

Anatomy of the shoulder and elbow

Biceps Tendinopathy

Biceps Brachii is one of the easiest muscles to identify. It runs down the front of the upper arm and is responsible for bending the elbow and rotating the forearm. The long biceps tendon sits in a groove at the top of the arm and attaches at the top of the shoulder blade. If the tendon becomes irritated and inflamed, it can develop into a tendinopathy.

Along with general pain, you may notice popping or clicking from the biceps area. Pain is worse on overhead movements like throwing a ball, or bringing the arm back as if to put a coat sleeve on.

This is a condition that’s more likely in people who have previously dislocated the shoulder. Proper rehabilitation after injury can improve overall joint health and reduce the chances of developing anything new. Even historical injuries are worth a check-up if they’ve never been addressed or if something doesn’t feel quite right.

Shoulder Labrum Tear

Sitting inside the shallow socket joint of the shoulder is a smooth piece of cartilage known as the labrum. This cartilage extends beyond the bone of the shoulder blade to provide a larger contact area for the humerus. The shallow ball and socket means the joint is very mobile, and the labrum helps increase stability around the joint. However, this cartilage is relatively exposed and therefore prone to injury.

Because of the way the biceps tendon attaches, a labrum tear will often involve some injury to the biceps. Repetitive movement or trauma such as a fall can cause a tear, and it may be felt as popping or catching on some movements. Cartilage is slow to heal, so the sooner you can get a potential tear looked at the better.

Shoulder Impingement

A few tendons pass through a narrow space between bones in the shoulder. If the muscles attached to them get inflamed, symptoms can be exacerbated by the lack of space and become progressive. Typically impingement is initially set off by repeated overhead activity. Often this is from sports involving overhead throwing, but could also be from something as simple as sleeping with an arm overhead or out to the side.

A simple impingement has a good prognosis if managed early. This means avoiding aggravating factors and starting to rehabilitate the injury as soon as possible. As with most things, the prognosis is worse if it is left to become a chronic condition.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known as Adhesive Capsulitis. It is a condition where the lining of the shoulder joint (capsule) becomes contracted and inflamed causing pain and loss of movement. It is certainly one of the more painful shoulder conditions, especially in the early stages, and can therefore disturb sleep as well as cause loss of function.

Frozen shoulder has 3 stages:
1.     Freezing – The shoulder starts to become painful and movements become more restricted. The pain may be worse at night. This stage may last from two to nine months.
2.     Frozen – Pain levels start to reduce; however the shoulder may become very stiff with limited movement. This stage may last from four to 12 months.
3.     Thawing – Symptoms start to resolve. Pain continues to diminish and shoulder movement starts to improve over a number of months or even years.

Whatever stage you are in, contact us for help.

Causes of Elbow pain

Medial and Lateral Epicondylitis


Tennis elbow and Golfer’s elbow are two kinds of epicondylitis. This means the bony junction where the muscles attach is inflamed. Neither requires a sports injury as such, they can develop in response to simple repetitive movements. Both tennis and golfer’s elbows are easy to spot and respond well to osteopathic treatment. Your osteopath might want to work into the shoulder and wrist to make sure everything is working as well as it can. They can also recommend advice to keep the elbow happy between treatments and in the long term.

Elbow Sprain

The elbow is well surrounded by ligaments, and ligaments can be sprained! This can be a result of trauma, typically overextending the elbow or a fall that results in bending the elbow to the side. It could also be the result of repetitive activity, and come on slower over time. It’s usually the ligament on the inside of the elbow that suffers a sprain.

Sprains are classified by the amount of damage, which suggests how easily they will heal. A mild sprain can resolve within a week, whereas a severe one might take a year. Even for more serious sprains, your osteopath might not recommend immobilising the arm in a sling. Movement within a comfortable range is generally the best thing for most injuries.

Olecranon Bursitis

The tip of the elbow is called the olecranon, and it is cushioned by a fat pad that serves to minimise friction between bone, muscle, and tendons. The fat pad is called a bursa, and when it’s irritated it can become inflamed. This is olecranon bursitis, otherwise known as “student elbow” because it can be caused by prolonged, repeated pressure from an elbow pressing on a desk. There may also be involvement from tight muscles such as triceps.

This is one condition that tends to look worse than it feels. Without too much pain, you may notice a significant lump on the tip of the elbow. There may also be some stiffness on elbow movements. This kind of swelling could also suggest gout or infection, especially if the lump is hot, red, or painful. Make sure to get any unusual lumps investigated.

Book in with one of our osteopaths to get a diagnosis and plan for your shoulder or elbow pain.