Shoulder pain is defined as a pain in the shoulder joint complex due to disease or injury. The shoulder comprises three bones and their accompanying tendons and muscles. These allow for a wide range of movement. Anything from reaching for your coffee cup to the perfect swing of your golf club. Shoulder pain can be felt all the time or only when you move your shoulder.
Shoulder pain may be acute or chronic. Acute shoulder pain is the short-lived pain that normally accompanies an injury. Chronic pain lasts for three or more months. Chronic pain may be experienced as a persistent aching feeling. Or, it can be as a stabbing or tearing pain when the joint is moved.
The Different Causes of Shoulder Pain
Why does my shoulder hurt? Shoulder joint pain can result from a variety of different causes.
An injury caused by overuse can affect the muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments within the shoulder joint. Overuse injuries often occur in individuals who play a sport where they repeatedly use the same arm for a movement that reaches over the head. For example, serving in a game of tennis. It can also occur if a task in your daily routine at work requires you to extend your arm a lot or lift heavy items.
Rotator Cuff Injury
The shoulder joint, like the hip joint, is a ball-and-socket joint. However, the socket into which the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) is comparatively shallow. The rotator cuff is the group of tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint. These help to keep the head of the humerus firmly in place.
Rotator cuff injuries are common. They result from repeated movement of the arm above the head. Treatment of pain management and physical therapy can lead to a full recovery. However, if one of the tendons in the rotator cuff tears (as a result of a single acute injury), surgery might be required to repair the tendon.
Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is the term for when the capsule around the shoulder joint becomes too tight. This limits the movement of your shoulder and causes pain. The most common causes of frozen shoulder are extended immobility of the joint. This can be a result of the time taken to recover from a broken arm, shoulder injury, or stroke. Symptoms usually worsen gradually and then resolve over time. This can take anything from one to three years.
Physical therapy can help to loosen the joint and improve the range of motion. Stretches for shoulder pain and massaging the affected area can decrease swelling and sensitivity. An injection of anesthetics and corticosteroids into the joint can help to alleviate pain and ease movement.
The bursae are fluid-filled sacs that allow the muscles and tendons to smoothly slide over the shoulder bones during movement. Bursitis occurs when these sacs become inflamed. Treatment usually entails managing the pain and resting the affected joint to protect it from further damage. With correct treatment, the pain associated with bursitis will go away after a few weeks. However, flare-ups are common.
There are two main types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder joint. Osteoarthritis (OA) is defined as a degeneration of the cartilage in the joint. It is a result of wear-and-tear on the joint. Arthritis is not as likely to occur in the shoulder joint as it is in the knees and hips.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. It results in chronic inflammation of the joint, which can become painful.
How Do You Treat Shoulder Pain?
When deciding on a course of treatment for your shoulder pain, it is important to first understand the type of pain you are experiencing and what the root cause is. From there, a treatment or set of treatments can be implemented to treat the cause of the pain and manage the pain itself.
Pain Medications for Shoulder Pain
There are different medications that can help to treat different kinds of shoulder pain.
- Non-opioid analgesics (aspirin, acetaminophen) can provide shoulder pain relief. However, they do not reduce inflammation.
- Topically applied creams containing counterirritants such as capsaicin or menthol can help to numb the pain at the injury site.
- Some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can decrease pain and inflammation. For example, ibuprofen and naproxen. These drugs can be taken orally or applied topically in the form of a cream.
- Corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation, pain, itchiness, and redness. They can also have a suppressive effect on the immune system. This is helpful in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as osteoarthritis.
- Methotrexate (Trexall) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) are disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs weaken the immune system’s ability to cause inflammation and destroy joint tissue.
Shoulder Injury Treatment
Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that one of your bones might be broken or if a joint is dislocated. If one of the bones in the shoulder is fractured, the joint will be immobilized with a sling. The bone can take up to six weeks to heal, for children. For adults, complete bone healing can take up to twelve weeks.
In most cases, rest, over-the-counter pain medications, and ice packs can control the pain and swelling. More serious breaks might require surgery. During surgery, screws, plates, or rods can be implanted to help stabilize the bones within the joint.
If your shoulder pain continues for months and does not respond to the above-mentioned treatment options, there are interventional procedures to consider.
- Injections of corticosteroid into the joint can decrease inflammation and aggravated nerves in the affected area.
- To loosen tightened tissues in the shoulder, one can consider a shoulder manipulation (done under general anesthesia) procedure.
Comprehensive Pain Management
Each patient and their shoulder pain is unique. Their treatment should be too. If you are suffering from chronic shoulder pain, contact MidSouth Pain Treatment Center to arrange a consultation with one of our expert medical professionals. Our mission is to look at the patient as a whole and find the root cause of the pain. In this way, a suitable treatment protocol can be developed to yield effective and long-term pain relief.