Never Ignore Pain in This One Body Part, Experts Warn
In the worst case scenario, it could be a sign of a serious medical emergency.
Any type of sudden, unexplained pain in your body deserves your attention, but experts say there's one location for discomfort that stands apart from the rest. If your trouble spot is in this place it can have a particularly wide range of underlying causes—many of them related to serious organ problems that you may not suspect. In fact, one diagnosis for sudden pain in this area is considered a serious medical emergency, and experts say you may have reason to call 911 if you notice it. They urge you to never ignore pain in this part of your body, and say it's crucial to learn the signs that indicate it may be something serious. Read on to find out what to look out for, and how to determine if your symptom means you're in immediate danger.
You should never ignore unexplained pain in your shoulder blade, experts say.
According to experts from the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS), you should never ignore sudden, unexplained shoulder pain—especially if it occurs with symptoms elsewhere in your body, such as in your abdomen or chest. This is because the source of your discomfort may actually be "referred shoulder pain," meaning "a problem exists somewhere else in the body other than where you feel the pain."
UMHS experts warn that there are several conditions capable of causing this type of referred pain. They say you may need to be screened for abdominal problems such as gallstones or pancreatitis, pelvic problems such as ovarian cysts, lung problems such as pneumonia, and other health issues including shingles, Paget's disease, thoracic outlet syndrome, or complications from past surgery.
Sudden, unexplained left shoulder pain can be caused by a heart attack.
If your unexplained shoulder pain happens to be on the left side, it's even more crucial that you call for medical assistance. Experts from UMHS explain that this type of pain can be a symptom of heart attack, blood vessel problems, or inflammation around the heart.
If you do suspect a heart attack, don't wait to call for help. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should dial 911 if you notice any chest pain or discomfort along with pain in the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach that lasts for more than five minutes.
The cause for your shoulder pain could also be orthopedic.
Of course, another possible cause for your shoulder pain is orthopedic injury, and these types of injuries are somewhat common given the shoulder's frequent motion and use. "The shoulder is the most movable joint in the human body," explains Penn Medicine. "A group of four muscles and their tendons, called the rotator cuff, give the shoulder its wide range of motion. Swelling, damage, or bone changes around the rotator cuff can cause shoulder pain. You may have pain when lifting the arm above your head or moving it forward or behind your back," their experts add.
Additionally, your shoulder pain may be caused by arthritis, bone spurs, bursitis, a broken bone, joint dislocation or separation, overuse, shoulder tear, or poor posture. If your pain does not resolve on its own and you suspect localized injury, seek help from an orthopedic specialist who can pinpoint the problem.
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How to tell the difference between localized and referred pain.
If you find that your shoulder is in sudden pain with no known explanation, it may be hard to distinguish between a localized injury and referred pain from something potentially more serious. Experts from Penn Medicine say there's one way to recognize referred pain that can help you quickly assess the problem. In the event that an organ is the underlying cause, they say "there is usually pain at rest and no worsening of pain when moving the shoulder."
And of course, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Speak with your doctor if you notice shoulder pain of any kind that may be cause for concern.