What are possible causes of shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain is a common ailment experienced by many people, although the incidence of shoulder pain tends to increase with age. This pain may be caused by a number of different shoulder conditions, and may be acute or chronic, and caused by injury or overuse. Damage or injury may occur within the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. Common shoulder conditions may include:

  • Dislocation
  • Instability
  • Separation
  • Labral Tear
  • Rotator Cuff Tear
  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis

Depending on the condition, individuals may experience stiffness, pain, loss of strength, limited range of motion and other debilitating symptoms.

How are shoulder problems diagnosed?

Shoulder problems may be diagnosed after a review of symptoms and a physical examination of the shoulder. Additional tests may include X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans to rule out any other conditions that may be causing symptoms. A doctor may also test the individual’s range of motion and arm strength by asking the patient to perform different actions with the arm and shoulder.

How can shoulder pain be treated?

Treatment for shoulder pain depends on the location and cause of the pain. Many shoulder conditions can be effectively treated through nonsurgical methods such as rest, applying ice or heat, stretching, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication. Some patients with severe shoulder conditions may require surgery, but most of these procedures can be performed through arthroscopy. Surgery is often successful in repairing shoulder problems and restoring function and strength to the joint.

What is bursitis?

Bursitis is a painful inflammation of a bursa, one of the small sacs at the joints that cushion the tendons, muscles and bones. Bursae normally enable fluid movement, but when overtaxed they can inflame and fill with fluid. Once a bursa becomes irritated, gritty and rough, it can create painful friction in the joint. Bursitis usually results either from repetitive stress or sudden injury and presents with swelling, redness and deep, aching pain. The joints most commonly affected by bursitis are the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee.

How is bursitis treated?

Usually bursitis responds to simple remedies, although the inflammation may take a week or many weeks to subside. Patients should see their physicians to rule out more serious injuries. They are typically advised to rest the injured region, avoid activities that intensify discomfort, ice the area, and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes stronger oral medications are prescribed to reduce inflammation and sometimes corticosteroid injections are administered. Physical therapy is often recommended to increase range of motion as healing takes place. Only in rare cases is surgery necessary to treat bursitis.

What is a rotator cuff injury?

The rotator cuff is the thick band of muscles and associated tendons that cover the top of the upper arm and hold in it place, providing support and stability to the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff also allows for a full range of motion while keeping the ball of the arm bone in the shoulder socket. These tendons can become partially or completely torn as a result of a rotator cuff tear or injury. A rotator cuff tear often occurs as a result of overuse of the muscles over a long period of time. This condition is more common in individuals over the age of 40, as well as in athletes or those who practice repetitive lifting or arm movement in their occupation. A rotator cuff injury may also occur as a result of a traumatic injury.

How is a rotator cuff injury treated?

Treatment for a rotator cuff injury varies and may include conservative treatments such as the use of a sling, rest, ice and physical therapy. Treatment for pain and discomfort may also include anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections. While these nonsurgical methods cannot completely heal a tear, they can often restore function to the shoulder without the need for a surgical procedure. Rotator cuff tears that cause persistent pain or do not respond to conservative treatment may require surgery. Surgery may be performed through arthroscopy or a traditional open procedure, depending on the severity of the tear.

What is a labral tear?

The labrum is a protective cuff of cartilage found in ball and socket joints like the shoulder and hip. It provides stability, cushioning and a full range of motion for the shallow shoulder joint. A labral tear can occur as a result of injury or overuse, causing pain and “catching” of the joint while it is in motion.

How is a labral tear treated?

Treatment for a labral tear depends on the type and severity of the tear. Many labral tears can be effectively treated without surgery by managing pain symptoms and undergoing physical therapy. Surgery may be required for more severe cases, and involves an arthroscopic procedure that can restore full movement and strength to the joint.

What is shoulder instability?

A shoulder is deemed unstable when it frequently dislocates or slips partially out of the joint, known as subluxation. This condition commonly occurs after an injury or from a naturally loose joint capsule that does not hold the ball of the joint in its socket. Patients with instability may experience pain when lifting the arm and a constant feeling that the shoulder is slipping out of place.

How is shoulder instability treated?

Patients with shoulder instability are often treated with physical therapy and rehabilitation to strengthen the shoulder and help it stay in place. Surgery may be required if conservative methods are unsuccessful. The type of surgical procedure performed depends on the cause of the instability, but may involve tightening the shoulder capsule or repairing damaged or torn ligaments.