Closeup of man holding his injured painful shoulder.

Shoulder Pain

What is shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain may occur if the tendons or bone refractor cuff show signs of swelling or injury, either from performing a physical sports activity or repetitive movement. The shoulder is capable of various range of motion and if something went wrong during the process, the person’s ability to move freely becomes limited or in worst cases, result to extreme pain or discomfort.

As we grow older, especially those who belong to the age bracket of 60 years old and above, the soft tissues around their shoulder tend to degenerate. Shoulder pain can be treated at home, while other conditions may require immediate medical care like therapies, medication or surgery if the pain or discomfort is becoming unbearable.

Symptoms

  • Sudden pain around the shoulders that may lead to heart attack
  • Pain extends to the neck, jaw or chest area, resulting to difficulty in breathing, nausea or excessive sweating
  • Inability to move the affected shoulder
  • Tenderness around the joint
  • Bruising
  • Pain doesn’t improve even after a series of treatments

Causes

There are various factors as well as underlying conditions that may lead to shoulder pain. Below are the most common causes:

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis (swelling of the tendons)
  • Injury around the neck or bicep area, called referred pain
  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis (inflammation of the bursa sacs, they are the ones that protect the shoulder)
  • Bone spurs
  • Broken arm
  • Broken shoulder bone
  • Dislocated shoulder
  • Heart attack
  • Frozen shoulder (stiffness resulting to immobility)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pinched nerves
  • Repetitive use of the bicep
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Septic arthritis
  • Shoulder separation
  • Spinal injury
  • Torn cartilage
  • Torn rotator cuff

Home care treatments

For minor shoulder pain, simple home care treatments will do such as:

  • Ice compress is applied on the affected area for 20 minutes, three to four times daily for a period of two to three days until shoulder pain is gone.
  • Complete rest is needed wherein the person with shoulder pain is required to refrain from doing any movement that may aggravate the pain around the shoulders.
  • Use of elastic bandage is also applied to treat any form of swelling or inflammation.

When should one seek medical care?

Aside from the above mentioned symptoms, below are warnings signs that will need immediate consultation and medical care:

  • Patient is experiencing high fever
  • Immobility around the shoulders
  • Unexplained bruising that lasts
  • Pain becomes worst despite of the application of home care remedies

Test, Treatments and drugs

Tests

The initial procedure upon consulting a medical practitioner is a one-on-one interview with regards to where in particular shoulder is pain felt, level of the pain and other unusual complaints. Aside from that, the attending doctor may request the patient to undergo a series of tests to get a more verifiable diagnosis of the problem and may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Observance of the injury
  • Verification of the patient’s range of motion and joint stability
  • Imaging tests are also done such as x-rays or MRI

Treatments and drugs

Depending on the patient’s cause of shoulder pain and severity, here are some of the recommended treatments and medications:

  • Patient may need to undergo physical therapy to strengthen the shoulders.
  • Patient is advised to wear a sling or shoulder immobilizer to prevent further harm of the injured shoulder.
  • Prescription of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids. These medications are directly injected into the shoulder.

Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery is recommended wherein a tiny incision in made during the treatment. After care instructions are given to the patient after a surgical procedure.

How to prevent the occurrence of shoulder pain?

Patient is given a set of shoulder exercises that are geared towards stretching and strengthening the muscles and rotator cuff tendons. These exercises are done under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

If the medical history of the patient shows weak shoulders, injury or other underlying problems resulting to shoulder pain, patient is advised to apply cold compress after 15 minutes doing any exercise to avoid future injuries.

If the patient has bursitis (swelling of the bursa sacs) or tendinitis (swelling of tendons), he or she will be asked to do only easy range-of-motion exercises on a daily basis to prevent acquiring frozen shoulder (when tendons, ligaments and muscles feel stiff or unable to move).