The weird connection between shoulder pain and heart trouble

If your shoulders feel sore, tight or painful, you may blame it on overworked muscles or poor posture. After all, it’s not unusual for your shoulders to hurt after lifting heavy boxes, playing too much tennis or hunching over the computer for hours on end.

But there could be another, more worrisome cause behind your shoulder trouble…

People with shoulder problems — like joint pain and rotator cuff injury — have a higher risk of heart disease than people with pain-free shoulders, according to research from the University of Utah. In fact, shoulder problems and heart disease risk factors are very closely connected…

Shoulder pain and heart health

The connection seems odd, but there’s definitely something to it…

In the University of Utah study, participants with the most risk factors for heart disease were 4.6 times more likely to have shoulder joint pain and 6 times more likely to have a rotator cuff tendon injury. And participants with a moderate amount of heart disease risk factors were 1.5 to 3 times as likely to have either of these conditions.

For most of us, these findings are surprising, but it’s not the first time that musculoskeletal disorders have been shown to indicate heart trouble. Carpal tunnel syndrome, Achilles tendinitis and tennis elbow have all been linked to an increased heart disease risk too. Researchers did, however, make another surprising discovery…

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So much for physical strain

Researchers suspected that physical strain would be at least as connected to shoulder problems as heart disease risk. It seems like common sense, right? But it wasn’t the case…

The study included 1,226 skilled laborers — all of whom had physically strenuous jobs to some degree or another. But even those with the most strenuous jobs were no more likely to have shoulder pain than those with the least strenuous jobs. Time spent doing other physical activities didn’t make a lick of a difference either.

So, what does that mean for you?

It means heart disease risk factors may play a bigger role in your shoulder pain than you ever imagined… even bigger than the repetitive physical tasks you’ve been blaming for your pain all these years. So never ignore this kind of pain. Instead be on the lookout for other well-known heart disease risk factors such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Your age (45 for men, 55 for women)
  • These 10 sneaky causes of heart disease

Say goodbye to shoulder pain

If you have shoulder pain, it’s time to take a closer look at your heart disease risk factors. Test your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Then start chipping away at the risk factors you have the most control over…

Stop smoking. Eat healthier (include these 20 best foods for a strong heart!). Exercise every day. If you start with those three things, it will create a domino effect that will eventually knock more risk factors off your list. You’ll start to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, balance your blood sugar and tame your blood pressure too. Soon enough your heart disease risk will be way down and your shoulder pain will be a thing of the past.

For more tips on your improving your heart health, see what the doctors say:

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  1. Arnold Applegate, et al. Association Between Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2016; 1.
  2. “Shoulder pain linked to increased heart disease risk.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  3. “What Are Shoulder Problems?” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
  4. “What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved December 28, 2016.


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and