We tend to take our shoulders for granted— that is, until they become painful. When suffering from shoulder pain, basic activities like showering, getting dressed, sleeping, and even driving can become difficult and unpleasant.
Millions of Americans go to the doctor every year for shoulder pain, and the numbers go far beyond that when you consider those who don’t seek medical care.
The shoulder is a complicated joint where the upper arm, shoulder blade, and collarbone meet. It’s a ball and socket joint, meaning that it can rotate in a full circle. However, in order for it to work properly, it needs the support of many other tissues— muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
As such a complicated joint, there are numerous ways that it can be injured. Sometimes this happens as a result of an accident, overuse, or it can occur as we age. Let’s look at the typical causes of shoulder pain and problems.
Osteoarthritis, or OA, affects millions of Americans. It is primarily diagnosed in adults over the age of 50, but can occur in younger people as well. OA occurs as the cartilage that protects the ends of your bones wears out over time, causing pain and stiffness. Although OA is most often reported in the knees and hips, it also often affects other major joints, including shoulders. OA can significantly limit your range of motion and be highly painful when occurring in the shoulder.
Rotator Cuff Tear
The rotator cuff is a system of tendons and muscles that hold the bone of your upper arm in place within your shoulder joint. A rotator cuff injury is very painful and most often happens to people who repeatedly put stress on the joint, as in certain sports and trades. A rotator cuff injury is the same general type of injury as an impingement, however, in this case the tendons are not just inflamed, but torn. The best way to tell if there is a tear is if the joint is also weak in addition to being painful.
Sprain or Strain
This kind of shoulder instability occurs when the structures that support the joint are overstretched— or even torn. A sprain is a serious condition in which the ligaments that hold the bones together tear. This can happen during a fall and push your collarbone out of its normal position. A strain is similar, except it affects other structures, such as tendons and muscles.
The medical term for frozen shoulder is adhesive capsulitis, which simply means that your shoulder becomes so inflamed that it becomes quite difficult to move. The shoulder becomes very stiff over a period of several months, causing everyday tasks to become increasingly challenging. Because it causes so much shoulder pain, most people are inclined not to use that arm at all, which actually makes the condition worse.
This sometimes happens if you have a medical situation that restricts the motion of your arm, such as a mastectomy. Contributing factors to frozen shoulder included aging (especially in women), under-active or over-active thyroid, and diabetes. Women are also more likely to suffer from it than men. Injuries can also be a cause, however, it is often impossible to identify the underlying source. It does tend to self-correct after a few years, however, it can recur.
An impingement involves inflammation of the tendons that connect the bones to the shoulder socket, or compression of the fluid-filled sac that cushions the place where the bones meet. Shoulder impingement actually describes a variety of issues with the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff, along with other shoulder components. Impingement is also often mistaken for two similar shoulder conditions: tendinitis and bursitis.
Shoulder impingement typically occurs in adults, often to those who repeat motions with their arms raised, such as tennis players and car mechanics. Usually when impingement is experienced, there isn’t a moment of injury that can be pinpointed. When impingement is present, the shoulder pain is usually not constant. Usually when lying down or keeping the arms low, the shoulder often feels fine.
The pain is likely to occur when doing anything up high or behind the back, according the South Carolina orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Geier.
As the name implies, tendinitis is the swelling of a tendon. It can be caused by repeated shoulder injuries or overuse of the joint. In some cases, calcium deposits also form in the rotator cuff tendons, causing severe pain. This occurs most often in older people and those with diabetes.
Bursae are small, liquid-filled, pillow-like structures that serve as cushioning throughout the body. These sometimes become inflamed, often due to stressing your joint over and over. Although older people most often experience it, other medical conditions can cause it too. Like damage to the rotator cuff, bursitis is often a repetitive use injury. Typical activities that lead to bursitis include repetitive reaching overhead, and sports such as basketball and swimming.
This happens when the top of your upper arm bone is pushed out of the shoulder socket. It can also be called a dislocated shoulder, and is extremely painful. The shoulder can only be dislocated during a sudden and jarring accident, such as a sports injury, driving accident, or from a fall. Once it has happened once, it may happen again because the joint is weakened.
While some shoulder problems will go away on their own with time, or can be treated at home with ice and rest, not all of them can.
Here are some signs that you should seek medical help for your shoulder immediately:
- Your shoulder looks deformed or not its normal shape
- You are unable to move your arm
- You are experiencing extreme pain
- The shoulder joint is swollen
- Your shoulder feels warm or hot to the touch
- You have trouble breathing or any feelings of tightness in your chest
Note: the last condition could point to a heart attack. If you are experiencing this, seek medical attention immediately.
While the last condition may point to a heart attack, the others likely indicate a shoulder injury that should be treated by a doctor right away.
What Are Your Options?
The good news is, surgery may not be necessary for you. The risk, recovery time, and restricted activity you’ll experience as a result of surgery definitely makes exploring other options worthwhile.
Flexogenix® specializes in non-surgical solutions that have helped over 40,000 patients avoid surgery. There are treatments like Progeni-Flex™, a fascinating type of regenerative medicine that helps the body repair itself. It uses your own body—special cells that can begin a natural healing process, even for age-related shoulder problems. These cells are injected with precision into the injured area.
Another non-surgical option is VisCare-Flex®, which involves injecting an FDA-approved, naturally-occurring lubricant into the joint. This has been proven effective in other joints, such as knees, and can even help with the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis.
Before you submit to risky, painful surgery and face months of physical therapy to regain use of your shoulder, contact Flexogenix. We would love to offer you a no-cost consultation to assess your shoulder and recommend the safest and most effective treatments to get you back on track.