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Shoulder Pain: Common Causes and Treatments

Shoulder pain can come from a number of sources – some more obvious, like a traumatic injury, and others that may develop more subtly over time from overuse or arthritis. The best treatment depends on the type of injury you have and what bone, muscles or tendons are injured.

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain that doesn’t improve with rest, ice or other at-home treatments, it may be time to work with an orthopedic specialist to determine the cause of your pain and treatment that’s best for you.

Here are two of the most common causes of shoulder pain:

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a grouping of tendons and muscles that surrounds the shoulder joint. This tissue tends to be injured in one of two ways:

  1. Wear and tear over time due, in part, to repetitive activities like baseball and tennis or repetitive motions around the house or on the job, such as swinging a hammer or painting. These activities can cause irritation and inflammation which may be diagnosed as tendonitis in the rotator cuff, or as impingement, when the inflammation causes the tendons or bursa to become pinched. People may report an achy pain that disrupts their daily activities as well as their sleep.
  2. A sudden, traumatic situation, such as a sports injury, collision or a FOOSH (fall onto an outstretched hand). These injuries often result in a tear of one or more of this group of muscles, which can vary in severity depending on the level of trauma. Impingement may also occur. Many patients report more severe throbbing pain when their rotator cuff is torn suddenly.

Can a rotator cuff tear heal on its own?

Regardless of the cause or severity, rotator cuff tears typically do not heal on their own, and only surgery can repair the torn tissue. This is important if your goal is to return to a level of activity you enjoyed before the tear. However, surgery is not the answer for everyone.

Depending on age, lifestyle and goals, rest, ice and anti-inflammatory pain relievers may be able to minimize pain, while physical therapy and exercise can achieve a level of strength and range of motion that meets a patient’s needs. Maintaining range of motion is important to allow for day-to-day and self-care activities like showering and dressing.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis comes with wear and tear on joints over time. It damages the smooth cartilage that covers and protects our bones. As cartilage around the shoulder and clavicle wears away, people typically experience painful bone-on-bone friction. This happens more frequently in the “AC” joint of the clavicle (AC is short for acromioclavicular).

There is no cure for arthritis in any joint, but rest, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help patients manage pain, and again, physical therapy and exercises allow patients to maintain or improve range of motion to maintain some level of activity. Corticosteroid injections also temporarily reduce inflammation and pain.

When does shoulder pain mean surgery?

When a patient’s pain and/or mobility cannot be managed with non-surgical techniques, a patient and orthopedic specialist may determine together that surgery can provide the best outcome. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, an orthopedic specialist may suggest arthroscopy or arthroplasty:

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that is often used for milder cases of arthritis and smaller muscle or tendon tears. A surgeon cleans out the affected joint or repairs a tear by making tiny incisions and using a fiberoptic camera to guide miniature surgical tools. This procedure does not eliminate the arthritis but can reduce pain. It may need to be repeated in the future as further damage occurs.

A partial or total shoulder replacement is known as arthroplasty and replaces damaged tissue with prosthetics. This surgery is considerably more involved and there are several methods that can be used depending on the patient’s specific circumstances. Reverse shoulder replacement, for example, is often recommended when a rotator cuff is completely torn and beyond repair.

Shoulder pain can range from inconvenient to debilitating. If you’ve been coping with shoulder pain, talk with one of our total joint specialists who diagnose and treat all types of shoulder pain. Use our easy scheduling tool to visit us at either of our convenient Colorado Springs locations.

Warning Signs of a Shoulder Condition

Do you have a shoulder pain that makes you wonder whether you have a shoulder problem or if it’s just a normal ache that will go away? If so, below are some warning signs that may signify a shoulder condition. 

Main Indicators of a Shoulder Problem

If you experience any of the following problems with your shoulder, it’s a good idea to have it checked out by an orthopedic physician:

Range of Motion 

Range of motion refers to the flexibility of movement with your shoulder. If you notice a decrease in range of motion, or if you cannot move it as well as you normally can, you may have a shoulder condition. Something is wrong inside the shoulder joint that is preventing normal movement.

Swelling

Swelling is often the sign of an internal injury or condition. If you notice swelling on the shoulder, a doctor can diagnose and treat the condition so the swelling lessens or goes away completely.

Pain

When the shoulder functions properly, it does not hurt to perform regular movements. However, when you have a shoulder condition or injury, some or all of the functionality in the shoulder is hindered, and the slightest movements can cause pain.

Appearance 

Another sign of a shoulder condition is a physical deformity. If you notice a bump, bulge, or difference in how your shoulder appears as compared to the other shoulder, have a doctor evaluate the issue. Even if you are not experiencing pain, it may indicate an underlying problem that should be treated.

Common Shoulder Conditions

If you do have a shoulder condition, it is likely due to one of the following common issues: 

Rotator Cuff Tear 

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles in your shoulder that help the shoulder to rotate. It’s where the humerus (upper arm bone) meets the socket of the shoulder.

A torn rotator cuff can be a result of an accident, the aging process, or overuse in a sport or profession. Susceptible professionals include painters, carpenters, and athletes such as baseball players and tennis players – all of whom perform overhead motions frequently.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder happens when the connective tissue that encapsulates your shoulder area (ligaments, tendons, and bones) thickens and tightens. This results in less range of motion for the shoulder. Frozen shoulder can also cause pain when you attempt to move it too much.

Fracture 

A fracture happens when too much force or pressure is put on a bone, and it cracks or breaks into pieces. Fractures in the shoulder can happen because of injuries, accidents, or weak bones due to conditions like osteoporosis.

Bursitis 

Bursitis happens when the bursa, a fluid-filled sac responsible for cushioning the shoulder joint, becomes inflamed due to overuse or injury. Bursitis causes pain when you move the shoulder.

Orthopedic Surgeon in Colorado

The Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence provides comprehensive orthopedic care to our patients. Our orthopedic physicians treat musculoskeletal conditions, diseases, and injuries of all kinds.

If you suspect that you have a shoulder condition or any other type of orthopedic issue, call us at (719) 623-1050 today to make an appointment. You can also request an appointment online now. We look forward to helping you enjoy a more active, pain-free lifestyle again.