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Diagnosis, interpretation and subsequent management of shoulder pathology can be challenging to clinicians. Because of its proximal location in the schlerotome and the extensive convergence of afferent signals from this region to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, pain reference patterns can be broadly distributed to the deltoid, trapezius, and or the posterior scapular regions. This pain behavior can make diagnosis difficult in the shoulder region, as the location of symptoms may or may not correspond to the proximity of the pain generator. Therefore, a thorough history and reliable physical examination should rest at the center of the diagnostic process. Effective management of the painful shoulder is closely linked to a tissue-specific clinical examination. Painful shoulder conditions can present with or without limitations in passive and or active motion. Limits in passive motion can be classified as either capsular or noncapsular patterns. Conversely, patients can present with shoulder pain that demonstrates no limitation of motion. Bursitis, tendopathy and rotator cuff tears can produce shoulder pain that is challenging to diagnose, especially when they are the consequence of impingement and or instability. Numerous nonsurgical measures can be implemented in treating the painful shoulder, reserving surgical interventions for those patients who are resistant to conservative care.