About the author:

Howard J. Luks, MD

A Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon in Hawthorne, NY. Dr Luks specializes in the treatment of the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle. He has a very "social" patient centric approach and believes that the more you understand about your issue, the more informed your decisions will be. Ultimately your treatments and his recommendations will be based on proper communications, proper understanding, and shared decision-making principles --- all geared to improve your quality of life. Please read our Disclaimer

25 comments on “Why Can’t I Lift My Arm or Move My Shoulder?

  1. Had orthoscopic Sx 6 yrs ago. Lately R (same) shoulder dull pain – this morning hard to raise arm. Hot shower and Ibu 800 helped. Typically, towards evening pain increase Etc. Sad to read great info as I bet it’s my poor rotator cuff.

    1. The armpit can hurt in the case of a frozen shoulder. The are other reasons too… see your doc so they can examine that area and check your shoulder range of motion.

  2. Dr. Luks,

    On early Friday morning I had a nasty fall. I caught the brunt of the fall on the heel of my right hand. It took me several moments to recover to the point where my husband could help me to stand up. I had intense shooting pains from my right thumb all the way up into my shoulder. I have used ice, moist heat, and advil since the fall, and the shooting pains went away, but I still have very limited mobility in my arm (although my fingers and wrist seem to be fine), my right arm is very weak and I am not able to lift it to chest level without supporting it with my left hand, and even then it causes a lot of pain in my upper right arm and shoulder. I have had bursitis in my right shoulder previously (about 20 years ago), but this seems different. Do you have any ideas?

    1. After a traumatic injury — if you lose the ability to lift the shoulder you want to be evaluated by a shoulder doc to be sure that you did not sustain a serious injury. Pain can cause loss of motion without there being a large tear… but a large tear can be caused by the fall — so I would suggest you be evaluated sooner rather than later

  3. i had no injury , but all of a sudden today I have pain when i attempt to move, lift, use my shoulder in almost any direction, position. And if i move it in a certain way it hurts excruciatingly. As I type this, I used my left arm to get my right arm in position. And I can sense where the issue is as I type. In the front, near the surface. It feels like i injured it, but I did nothing memorable. Just started a couple hours ago, and I want to double over when it tweaks. Feels like a tendon is enlarged, and can’t slide over the muscle smoothly, so it seems to catch, and that is when i feel the most sharp pain. I am hoping this is just an brief acute thing. I think I had this happen before, in the recent year or so, but not nearly this painful. And it was short lived. But why? And what do I do? It almost makes me sick to my stomach it hurts so bad when it catches. And it happens with the most innocent of movement, not even a lift, but a slight cross wise move. And not even lifting anything. Just moving my arm.

    1. Jill … I’m sorry it hurts so much 🙁 These are very common complaints from shoulder pain sufferers. The most common causes of pain like you describe include the rotator cuff itself (tendinosis),the subacromial bursa (bursitis) and the biceps tendon (which can become inflamed). Occasionally a very early frozen shoulder will present like this. If the pain persists despite stretching, perhaps Kirsch exercises and Tylenol then I would see a shoulder doc for a diagnosis. Then therapy can be prescribed — which is usually quite successful in the treating the pain of many conditions.

  4. My mother of 79 yrs young has been recently told after an ultrasound that she has no tendons left in her shoulder. She had been complaining of her arm being very painful and not being able to raise her arm without the help of her other arm. She has an appt with her doctor next week but what does this mean. Is there anything that can be done?

  5. My husband Can easily raise his entirearm over his head when laying Down.However during the Day he has to have the other hand assist him with raising the injured arm. He had a falland the only pain he feels is when HE LIFT IT… It is very weak … He Thinks it is the biceps ?? Coulis That be Right ? THANK you for your
    reply. G . Maier

    1. It’s likely to be a large rotator cuff tear… but only a good examination and possibly an MRI can tell you for sure. Please see a shoulder doctor soon.

  6. My wife developed a situation where it was very painful to move her shoulder. She did nothing noticeable to cause this. She went to the GP and he got her to move her shoulder through the full range of movements, which she was able to do, although with some pain.
    Less than 24 hours later, she had next to no movement in her shoulder. She went back to the GP, who declared it a “frozen shoulder”, and gave her an injection in the shoulder area. The pain vanished, but she still has no shoulder movement under muscle power. (She can lift it vertically with the other arm)..
    Is this more likely to be some sort of rotator cuff problem, rather than a frozen shoulder?…..or are they the same?
    Thanks for any advice you can offer.

  7. Can a flu shot in the upper arm cause injury to the arm resulting in the pain (SIRVA)? I had a flu shot and arm pain started shortly after and has been gradually increasing. It has been about 4 to 5 months and now it realllly hurts.

    1. A flu shot can result in a frozen shoulder with stiffness and pain. Any injection can. It’s not the medication being injected that causes it. A frozen shoulder can occur with incidental trauma, and most often people do not recall any injury.

  8. hey
    actually my father is suffering pain in his shoulder from last 3 to 4 years…. he had seen many doctors here in india…did many physiotherapy…had homeopathic medicines…
    i am really tensed for him please tell me if there is a cure for it in america i would surely take my father there…
    MEHAK JAIN

  9. Hi i have severe pain in my arm , i can move my shoulder , i can move my arm from the elbow down , its the top part of my arm that really hurts when i try to raise it or even twist it , this is my right arm , any help please

    1. Sorry Rachel 🙁 Shoulder pain — pain on the outer part of the upper arm can be terrible. I good examination and an xray are necessary. Without a history of trauma one of the most common reasons is bursitis assoc with rotator cuff tendinosis. Also common in situations which come on suddenly is calcific tendonitis. But only an exam and an xray can tell you and your doctor what’s going on for sure. Good luck !

  10. hi, i dont know what to do. I had no injury, but I can’t move or lift my arm, I have pain in my left shoulder. I can feel everything, but I cant move my fingers, so please help me. I have weak circulation, and I don’t have left a leg, can be there some connection or? I have 65 yeras. I went to hospital but they didnt know what to do, or how to help me, so I started to search the web, and I saw this site, so please if you know the answers it will save my life, because I cant go anywhere, I cant even go to bathroom.

  11. My 20 year old son did weights 2 days ago. Low weight, many reps. Late in the afternoon he started having back of the shoulder pain. He woke in the middle of the night with excruciating pain. He can’t move his shoulder at all. Took ibuprofen and is icing. Could this be from inflammation ? Rotator cuff? Thanks

    1. I do not know… it’s possible. But without an examination by a doctor it’s hard to say. If the pain is that severe he should see his doctor.

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