Understanding and Alleviating Burning Shoulder Pain: A Comprehensive Guide

Burning shoulder pain is a serious problem that can have an intense and negative impact on your quality of life. It is caused by a wide range of issues in the body that can lead to bigger problems. Shoulder pain is the result of injury or trauma to the shoulder, such as a fracture or dislocated shoulder. Still, there are a number of different reasons that you could have burning shoulder pain.

Burning shoulder pain could be caused by inflammation or infection. It may be caused by rotator cuff issues, tears in the tissues or joints, or a problem with another part of the body that radiates to the shoulder. When burning shoulder pain goes on too long, you will want to seek medical attention. Shoulder pain that goes unattended can result in permanent injury and lifelong pain. Taking care of your shoulder pain will make you a healthier person. If you have burning pain in the shoulder for too long, talk to your doctor about taking care of it as soon as you can.

Causes of Burning Shoulder Pain

There are many different causes of burning shoulder pain. The most common causes are injury or inflammation. For burning shoulder pain or burning pain in the shoulder, the most common causes are:

  • Injury such as dislocated shoulder
  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Rotator cuff tear
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Nerve impingement

A burning pain is typically caused by inflammation or a tear. While a dislocated shoulder is going to cause intense pain, it is not always going to be a burning pain. It will be a sharp and shooting pain and could be a burning pain in time as it heals. Bursitis is a very common cause of burning pain in the shoulder.

Bursa are small fluid-like sacs all over the human body found in the joint areas of the skeleton. They are located between the tissues of the bones and ensure that our joints move back and forth freely and smoothly without any friction at all. When these bursa are wounded, damaged, or infected, you will experience bursitis which is a burning pain.

Tendonitis is the same kind of pain. This is inflammation in the tendons and muscle tissues. The most common kind of tendonitis in the shoulders is rotator cuff tendonitis. When you perform the same action repeatedly throughout the day, and over the course of many days or weeks, you might experience rotator cuff tendonitis. This will result in a burning pain in the shoulder.

A rotator cuff tear is more serious. This is a partially or completely torn rotator cuff that can be caused by wear and tear on the area, or by an injury. This is an excruciating pain that radiates in the arm and shoulder. As the rotator cuff heals after treatment, you may experience burning pain in the shoulder.

Arthritis of any kind in any area of the body is described as a burning pain. Arthritis in the shoulder or osteoarthritis in the bones can cause that burning pain. This pain causes wear and tear in the shoulders as people age. Osteoarthritis can not be cured but can be treated and managed with the right home and medical care.

A nerve impingement is another very common kind of burning shoulder pain. When a nerve is damaged or pinched it can send a shooting pain but also feel like a burning pain. Injury or trauma to the shoulder can result in a pinched nerve. Even carrying a heavy bag on your shoulder repeatedly could result in this kind of pain.

A frozen shoulder is exactly what it sounds like, but the shoulder is not numb. This is a shoulder that is stiff and difficult to move. Pain can worsen with arm movements and the pain is the most severe early on. When the tissues between your joints are inflamed, you may experience a frozen shoulder.

Many different factors go into burning shoulder pain and can contribute to a burning sensation in the shoulders. Age can be a factor, weight is also a contributor. When your joints have additional weight to carry, they are more at risk of injury, trauma, and inflammation.

You want to pay very close attention to your symptoms when your shoulder is hurting. If the arm feels weak, or there is a limited range of motion in the arms, you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms. If you experience pain when you are lifting an object, or have trouble sleeping as a result of the pain, you may be able to reduce the pain with at-home management.

Still, if you can not sleep at all and the issue persists for weeks, it is time to talk to a doctor. With rest comes healing, and when your quality of life begins to suffer, it is time to get some help for these issues. Issues such as fractures or dislocations always need immediate medical attention. A burning pain in the shoulder and upper arm can be an indicator of a serious problem. Still, there are many at-home remedies and exercises you can perform to get better.

a graphic depiction of burning shoulder pain

Relief and Home Remedies for Burning Shoulder Pain

There are many different kinds of remedies and at-home relief methods to heal and help with burning shoulder pain. The nature of your pain and the cause of the pain will determine your treatment or remedy, but many kinds of shoulder pain can be managed the same way.

The most common methods of shoulder pain treatment at home are:

  • RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
  • Exercises or physical therapy
  • Hot and cold therapy with hot or cold compresses or ice packs
  • Over-the-counter analgesics, pain medications, and cream
  • Proper posture techniques and exercises if you struggle with this
  • Improved lifestyle habits such as better sleep routines, healthy eating, and proper hydration

Burning pain in the shoulder and arm can be treated with loving care to yourself and your body. Rest the injury or trauma as much as you can, and ensure that it is immobilized if necessary. When the injury or location of the trauma is immobilized, it is much easier to move the rest of your body without experiencing pain. Alternating hot and cold packs during the worst of the pain can be a very easy at-home treatment.

There are many at-home exercises that can be helpful when you are suffering from burning pain in the shoulder. You can try strengthening, stretching, or stability exercises. These will also help you with your posture which will help to improve your overall condition.

Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and topical creams can also work very well with a burning sensation in the shoulder. The pain from burning pain in the shoulder can be treated immediately with these medications. When the pain gets too severe, talk to your doctor about it.

It also can not be overstated that lifestyle habits contribute to burning pain in the shoulder. If you are already in pain, poor lifestyle habits will make it worse. Make sure that you are eating right and sleeping right. Not sleeping well will contribute to worsened pain, and so will an unhealthy diet. When you have excess weight, it could create additional stress on the bones and muscles that are in pain.

Taking care of yourself is an important component in managing burning pain in the shoulder. When the pain goes on too long, it is time to see a doctor.

Medical Treatment Options for Burning Shoulder Pain

When you go to a doctor to have your shoulder pain checked, your doctor will want to perform some tests to determine the cause of the pain. You will likely have diagnostic imaging performed, such as ultrasound, X-Ray, and CT scan or MRI. Your doctor will want to manage your pain, and the cause of the pain.

The pain can be treated with prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs.) This is a prescription-grade ibuprofen such as Naproxen that can be tremendously helpful with this condition. Corticosteroid injections are also very common for burning shoulder pain.

Physical therapy is also an important part of burning shoulder pain treatment. That does not always just include exercises, but could include electro-muscular stimulation. This is a painless way to stimulate the tissues to progress healing and mobility in the shoulder area.

In extreme cases, surgery can help to treat burning shoulder pain. A rotator cuff injury, for example, could benefit from surgery that will repair the injured cuff. With this treatment, you may need additional pain management and monitoring.

You should contact a doctor when you have extreme pain, swelling, fever, or pain that lasts more than two weeks. If you are significantly bruised in the area, contact your doctor to discuss the best treatment method.

Shoulder Pain Exercises and Stretches

There are many different exercises and stretches that can be performed at home that can help you with your at-home pain management. Your doctor may recommend some as well. It is very important to perform the exercises that your doctor recommends or orders. When you exercise your inflamed or injured areas, you are teaching your body how to strengthen and stretch itself toward healing.

As important as rest is when healing from burning pain in the shoulder, so too is activity. Try these exercises.

  • Arm circles
  • Doorway stretches
  • Pendulum swings
  • Thread the needle

Arm circles are an ideal way to get blood flowing to your shoulder pain. This will help to release endorphins that can act as additional pain management. Simply rotate your arms in circles either vertically or horizontally to stimulate blood flow. If you need to modify this, you can do slow circles, or low circles, or only do them for a minute or two at a time. Sitting when you perform this exercise will also help to modify this to an exercise that is helpful.

Doorway stretches are another good exercise to perform. Here you put your hands as high as you can in a doorway or door frame. Place one hand on either side of the frame and lean into each side. Go back and forth and hold this stretch for about 30 seconds at a time. You want to repeat this a few times, or fewer if you can not perform this exercise too long.

Pendulum swings are swings that you make with your arm to make it look like a pendulum. The easiest way to do this is by lying down on your chest. Hang your injured arm over the bed or couch you are lying on and swing your arm back and forth. Do this for approximately 30 seconds for approximately 10 to 12 times in total, or for as long as you can handle.

Shoulder Pain Prevention and Management Strategies

Some shoulder pain can be prevented. Rest is very important in your treatment, but you also need to stay active. Staying active ensures blood flow to the shoulders which helps with both pain management and healing. Rest will help you to heal and prevent further injury, and activity will also help in prevention.

If you already exercise regularly, be sure that you are doing it properly to avoid injury. Do not perform weight-bearing exercises that are too heavy. Make sure that you warm up with very light stretches before every workout or activity and warm down as well.

Lifestyle factors such as sleep and diet are critical to preventing and managing shoulder pain. Sleeping properly, and sleeping enough, will help you to manage your shoulder pain, or prevent it from happening.

Find Relief for Shoulder Pain

When you have shoulder pain, you want relief now. Burning pain in the shoulder is an often debilitating pain that can result in lost work or poorer quality of life. Remember to live a healthy lifestyle, have proper sleep habits, and take care of yourself. When the pain goes on too long, talk to your doctor and find relief right away. You don’t have to live with this without help.

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

Recommended Articles


  1. https://www.sports-health.com/blog/understanding-different-types-shoulder-pain
  2. https://www.shoulder-pain-explained.com/burning-shoulder-pain.html
  3. https://facty.com/conditions/back-pain/common-causes-of-shoulder-pain/
  4. https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/shoulder-pain
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/shoulder-pain/
  6. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/pain-referred-shoulder-pain