The shoulder has a lot of demands placed on it every day. While it may not be a workhorse like the hips and the knees, we nevertheless ask it to haul our groceries, hug our children and grandchildren, and complete a thousand daily tasks without complaint. When shoulder pain flares up, it can often stop us in our tracks. Here’s what you should know about causes and how to treat it.
Why does my shoulder hurt?
Whether it starts first thing in the morning or occurs as your day wears on, shoulder pain can range from mildly distracting to utterly debilitating. From a dull roar to a constant burn, the intensity of shoulder pain can take your breath away.
If your shoulder hurts and your range of motion is limited, you are not alone, and there is help.
What causes shoulder pain?
Understanding how the shoulder works can go a long way towards understanding why it can often be a painful area of the body. The shoulder itself is a complex collection of three different bones:
- Scapula (shoulder blade)
- Humerus (upper arm bone)
- Clavicle (collar bone)
These are connected with tendons and ligaments and additionally supported by muscles. The entirety of your shoulder is often referred to as the shoulder girdle and includes four separate joints. These include:
- The glenohumeral joint: The ball and socket joint where the head of the humerus nestles into the scapula
- The acromioclavicular (AC) joint: The gliding joint that connects the clavicle and the acromion of the scapula (located underneath the scapula)
- The sternoclavicular (SC) joint: The connection between your clavicle and the sternum
- The scapulothoracic joint: The meeting of the scapula and the ribs on the back
With so many moving parts, it’s no wonder the shoulder is so susceptible to pain. The majority of shoulder pain causes fall into one of four categories.
Inflammation in the tendons of the shoulder leads to conditions like bursitis and tendinitis (including rotator cuff tendinitis).
Bursitis is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that cushion contact between your bones deteriorates. Once the bursae are gone, bones no longer glide smoothly over each other but instead grind and rub painfully, causing inflammation.
Another primary cause of inflammation in the shoulder involves the tendons. Tendons connect ligaments to bone. When these ligaments are overstretched or injured, the resulting inflammation can make movement painful.
Over time, this limited movement actually causes your tendons to shrink, further limiting range of motion. Tendinitis can be acute, as when you irritate the tendons through repetitive motion (e.g., throwing a ball), or it can be chronic (e.g., arthritis).
2. Instability in the shoulder girdle
Instability in the shoulder girdle caused by a rotator cuff tear or other tendon injury can be a source of excruciating and debilitating pain.
Another common type of shoulder instability that causes pain is a dislocated shoulder (full dislocation or partial, called subluxation). Many people who suffer one dislocated shoulder may be prone to reoccurrence as they get older. This can increase the risk of developing arthritis in the shoulder as well.
The most common type of arthritis found in the shoulder is osteoarthritis. This is a wear-and-tear condition that occurs from using our shoulder joints throughout our lives. People with occupations that utilize repetitive motion or heavy lifting are more prone to developing this condition.
In a vicious cycle, the shoulder pain of arthritis may cause some to limit their movements in an attempt to reduce their pain. While this is understandable, the result is an increasingly limited range of motion that prevents even the simplest of motions, like raising a hand to wave.
4. Injury or fracture
With the exception of arthritis and bursitis, most shoulder pain causes can be lumped into this one category: injury.
Whether from a car accident, sports injury, or just playing around with the kids, this type of pain results when damage to any of the tendons, ligaments, or muscles in the shoulder girdle occurs. This includes things like broken collarbones.
Who is most likely to have shoulder pain?
Shoulder pain risk factors are just what you might imagine them to be.
As we get older, our shoulders (and other parts of us!) begin to get a bit worn. If you happen to make the same repetitive motions for a sport or work, this can speed the process up even more.
Competitive athletes are also at increased risk of shoulder pain.
How will Alliance Pain Solutions help with my pain?
Alliance Pain Solutions knows that your shoulder pain treatment needs to be effective, as conservative as possible, and sensitive to the demands of daily life. Here’s how we help.
Shoulder pain diagnosis
We start with a complete medical exam that includes taking a thorough medical history. Sometimes the cause of shoulder pain is straightforward. If you are the starting pitcher for a local baseball league or play a lot of golf, chances are good that’s the cause. Our physical examination will include checking for reflexes, strength, and range of motion.
Our team may also recommend imaging such as X-rays, MRIs, or a CT scan to look at not only your bones but also the soft tissues, tendons, and ligaments in the joint.
If imaging studies are inconclusive and pain is unrelieved, electrical studies to evaluate nerve function or arthroscopy for a closer surgical look may be necessary. These can also help confirm a diagnosis so we can better customize your treatment plan.
Our shoulder pain treatment approach
Shoulder pain treatment must be comprehensive, holistic, and considerate of the demands and challenges of your daily life. In addition to physical therapy, chiropractic care, and massage therapy, Alliance Pain Solutions offers the following treatments:
- Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections
- Epidural steroid injections
- Joint injections
- Radiofrequency ablation
We work with you to determine the best combination of treatment options to resolve your pain and restore your mobility.
Alliance Pain Solutions is a West Phoenix pain clinic, welcoming patients from all over the Valley. Our conservative care utilizes proven protocols to achieve positive outcomes in managing and resolving your shoulder pain.
Get in touch today to schedule your appointment.