Understanding and Managing Chronic Shoulder Pain:
A Comprehensive Guide

By Alissa Link, MPH
May 31, 2022
9 min. read


Chronic shoulder pain can significantly impact an individual's daily activities and overall quality of life. Shoulder pain is a common issue, with an estimated prevalence of 6.9% to 26% among the general population, and it is responsible for approximately 16% of all musculoskeletal complaints in primary care settings [1] [2]. This guide aims to provide a detailed understanding of shoulder pain, its causes, and effective treatment strategies with a brain-first approach. We strive to deliver the necessary resources, knowledge, and tools to manage your pain efficiently and improve overall well-being.

Defining Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is characterized by discomfort in the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles, which can be classified as acute (lasting less than six months) or chronic (persisting or recurring for more than six months). Symptoms may include a dull ache, sharp or throbbing pain, restricted range of motion, stiffness, and difficulties in performing activities like lifting or reaching overhead.

Causes of Shoulder Pain

The World Health Organization (WHO) differentiates chronic pain, including shoulder pain, into primary and secondary pain categories. Although both types share similar physical sensations, their underlying causes vary significantly. Identifying the type of pain is crucial for administering effective treatment.

Primary Pain

  • Constitutes a significant portion of shoulder pain cases
  • Pain is driven by nervous system sensitization rather than tissue damage or structural abnormalities
  • Generally persists for more than six months and may manifest suddenly without a specific injury
  • Can present inconsistently, often intensifying during periods of stress

Secondary Pain

  • Originates from a physical injury or illness
  • Commonly associated with an injury (e.g., rotator cuff tear, dislocation) and lasts less than six months
  • Usually a novel pain experience localized in a specific part of the shoulder
  • May be related to a current injury (e.g., fracture) or growth (e.g., tumor)

Treatment Strategies for Shoulder Pain

The majority of shoulder pain cases fall under the primary pain category, necessitating a brain-first treatment approach. This method targets the pain processing system, eventually altering the way the brain interprets and communicates physical sensations.
Lin's comprehensive program alters how the brain perceives pain by incorporating the following evidence-based techniques and fields:

  • Psychology: This involves understanding the patient's mental and emotional state and its impact on pain perception.
  • Neuroscience: This field studies the intricate ways the brain and nervous system influence pain.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients reframe negative thinking patterns associated with pain, fostering adaptive responses to discomfort.

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The program encompasses six elements

  • Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT): PRT helps the brain "unlearn" its response to pain signals using mindfulness, visualization, and cognitive restructuring.
  • Psychophysiologic Symptom Relief Therapy (PSRT): PSRT addresses psychosocial factors contributing to physical pain, using stress management and relaxation techniques.
  • Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy (EAET): EAET helps individuals recognize, understand, and express their emotions effectively, relieving physical pain.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT encourages patients to accept their reactions, be present, choose a direction, and take action, effectively dealing with their pain.

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By integrating these disciplines and therapies, Lin's program offers a comprehensive, brain-first approach to managing shoulder pain and similar conditions.

Recovery is attainable. With appropriate guidance and support, you can overcome chronic shoulder pain and live a fulfilling life.

Recovery is attainable. With appropriate guidance and support, you can overcome chronic lower back pain and lead a fulfilling life. Visit Lin Health today to explore our personalized coaching for lower back pain relief and find the support you need.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339077/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339077/
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