Shoulder Pain

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Shoulder Overview

The shoulder is a ball and socket between the upper arm bone (humerus) and scapula (shoulder blade) that serves as the connection between your upper limb and trunk.

As one of largest, most complex, and mobile joints of the body, the shoulder boasts the greatest range of motion; it is also the most commonly dislocated.

Shoulder Pain Causes

Shoulder pain may be minor or severe, temporary or chronic. It may arise from the shoulder joint itself, or from one of any of the muscles, ligaments, or tendons surrounding it. The pain may be constant or only when you move your shoulder.

Shoulder pain may initiate from numerous sources. Some of the more common include:

  • Injury (falls, sports-related, etc.)
  • Tendinitis (inflammation of tendon from overuse)
  • Bursitis (tiny fluid-filled bursae sacs become inflamed or swollen)
  • Arthritis (most frequently, osteoarthritis, caused by injury or daily wear and tear of the joint)

Shoulder Pain Diagnosis

Shoulder pain may resolve itself within a few weeks with the use of simple pain relievers and avoidance of physical activity that could aggravate the condition. Should your shoulder pain be non-injury related or unresponsive to conventional remedies, you should consult your physician within a few weeks.

At the other end of the spectrum are instances that call for immediate intervention. These include those producing:

  • Deformity of your joint
  • Intense sudden pain and/or swelling
  • Inability to move the arm away from your body or use the joint itself

The starting point of diagnosing your shoulder pain will be an initial physical examination that determines the location, type, and extent of the injury.  Your physician will inquire of you when and how it occurred; your current health/medications; age; and daily activities. Should there be no apparent cause, the following, among others, may be deemed necessary:

  • Blood tests (for detection of underlying problems)
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound (assessment of soft tissue)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or computed tomography (CT) scans

Depending upon the findings, your doctor may refer you to an orthopaedic specialist (dedicated to diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions) or rheumatologist (specializing in problems involving joints, soft tissues, and autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis).

Shoulder Pain Treatment

A change in your activities may be the most uncomplicated route to alleviating your shoulder pain. Common sense alterations such as avoiding overexertion and activities that may exacerbate the pain, along with physical therapy to improve mobility, function, and strength of your shoulder may prove effectual. Simple rest and hot or cold compresses also bring relief for some.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may offer short-term relief for your shoulder pain.

Should these prove ineffective, your physician may recommend prescription medications, cortisone injections or neuromuscular electrical stimulation (TENS).

Although surgery is at times necessary, most patients ordinarily respond to one or more of the less invasive treatments. Exceptions may include rotator cuff tears and frequently occurring dislocations.


Orthopedic Surgeons

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