Shoulder Pain

One in three Singaporeans experience shoulder pain in their lives, but they are rarely serious. Find out more about the common risk factors, when to consult a doctor and lifestyle changes to manage shoulder pain.


  • It is common to experience shoulder pain1. One in three people will experience shoulder pain in their lives. 
  • Shoulder pain occurs at either the joint, muscles, tendons, or ligaments around the shoulder joint. 
  • Although shoulder pain may feel uncomfortable, they are rarely serious and usually resolve with rest and self-management at home without the need to consult a doctor.
  • Only consult a doctor if there are warning symptoms (see below) or if the pain does not improve after a period of self-management.

Other possible symptoms 

As shoulder pain is a symptom and not a medical diagnosis, these are other symptoms that you may feel with shoulder pain:

  • Pain with certain movement (e.g. overhead, lifting)
  • Neck and shoulder feel stiff or tight
  • Shoulder feels unstable or weak
  • Combination of these common symptoms 

Common risk factors 

  • Previous shoulder injury
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Sudden increase or decrease in usual activities
  • Lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking, overweight, stress)

When should you consult a doctor

Consult a doctor urgently if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Significant injury, trauma, or deformity (e.g. road traffic accident)
  • Chest pain or jaw pain
  • Shortness of breath or cold sweat

Consult a doctor early if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Fever, swelling or weight loss
  • Pain does not improve or resolve on its own after self-management

How long does recovery take

With appropriate self-management, shoulder pain usually improves or goes away on its own in 6 weeks.

Lifestyle changes to prevent / manage Shoulder Pain

  • Refer to leaflet on “Self-help tips to manage pain”.
  • If sleep is affected, try putting a pillow behind your back to stop yourself from rolling onto your painful shoulder.
  • Do self-directed stretches and exercises regularly.

Self-directed stretches and exercises






Frequently Asked Questions

“Is pain always a bad thing?”

  • Experiencing some pain is normal as your shoulder recovers but it should improve with appropriate rest and recovery. It does not mean it is damaging your body. If your pain does not get better, you should consult your doctor or physiotherapist.

“Should I rest the shoulder joint when it is painful and avoid all activities?”

  • You should remain active and move your shoulder within your pain limits. Not using your shoulder at all can be more harmful as it can become weak and stiff. If you have consulted a doctor or therapist, follow their advice or exercise.

“Do I need an X-ray for my shoulder pain?”

  • An X-ray is not necessary to diagnose shoulder pain. Your doctor may order an X-ray if other causes are to be ruled out or surgery is considered. 

“Is it true that medications or injections will help me to recover faster?”

  • Medications and injections are only useful for specific conditions, and your doctor will advise you accordingly.


In most cases, your pain should improve in 6 weeks. Consult a doctor if your pain worsens or if you have any of the symptoms stated in the “When should you consult a doctor” section above.

Support networks / Useful links 


One-Rehab Musculoskeletal Workgroup (Jan 2023 - Dec 2023)

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapists from Public Healthcare Institutions


  1. Lucas, J., van Doorn, P., Hegedus, E., Lewis, J., & van der Windt, D. (2022). A systematic review of the global prevalence and incidence of shoulder pain.
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