Information for Consumers - Shoulder (Pain or Instability)

This article tells you about shoulder problems (pain, instability and stiffness) and how it is diagnosed, including what imaging tests you may need to have.

What is shoulder pain or instability?

Shoulder instability means that the shoulder joint is loose and able to slide around in the socket. Sometimes your shoulder can slip out of the socket completely. This means it is dislocated.

Shoulder pain is a very common complaint. If you have shoulder pain, you may have it all of the time or it may only happen when you move your shoulder.

Shoulder pain or instability is usually caused by problems with the soft tissues, muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the shoulder.


Your doctor will discuss the signs and symptoms of your shoulder pain or instability. Shoulder pain will usually go away within a few days and you would not normally need an X-ray for diagnosis. Sometimes however, he/she may request an X-ray if:

  • something more serious may be causing your shoulder pain
  • your shoulder is unstable
  • your pain does not get better with simple treatment measures

This will help the doctor to decide what is causing your shoulder pain or instability and what type of treatment you need.

Depending on what the X-ray shows, your doctor may request further tests which may include an Ultrasound, MRI or CT scan.


A radiology doctor will look at your scans and write a report for your doctor.

Further information

For more detailed information, please access InsideRadiology at:

This is a resource produced especially for consumers by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists:

A guide to gathering information that you may need for making informed decisions is published by the Consumers' Health Council of Australia at:

If you would like to look at other relevant articles, please access the following:

Or access the Diagnostic Imaging Pathways website at:

Or if you have questions or require any further information please contact your doctor or speak to the staff where you are going to have your procedure.

Consumer participation

This information has been reviewed by representatives from the following groups:

  • Aboriginal people
  • People with disabilities
  • Seniors
  • CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse)
  • The Health Consumers' Council


All feedback, comments and suggestions regarding consumer information at Diagnostic Imaging Pathways are welcome. Please click on Contact Us


This article is intended as general information only. The Diagnostic Imaging Pathways team and Radiology Across Borders will not accept any liability arising from its use. The information is kept as up-to-date and accurate as possible. Please be warned that it is always subject to change.


© Copyright 2023, Diagnostic Imaging Pathways. All Rights Reserved. The information contained on this web site is protected by copyright.

Date reviewed: July 2017

Date of next review: July 2019