When your shoulder hurts, even the simplest daily tasks can be excruciating, such as driving a car or washing dishes. If you are an active person, you may be unable to enjoy your hobbies and outdoor activities.
Types of Shoulder Injuries
In general, most shoulder injuries can be grouped into 4 categories:
- Tendon Inflammation: repetitive motion such as throwing a ball or playing tennis can cause inflammation to the tendons surrounding the shoulder or to the bursa located in the shoulder joint. Tendinitis and bursitis are two prime examples of shoulder inflammation that can result in a debilitating and painful injury. You may lose range of motion or develop chronic pain without appropriate treatment. Appropriate treatment may include rest, ice, therapy, and oral or topical medications.
- Instability: instability of the joint can result from an infection, from a sudden impact, or from chronic overuse. A dislocation is a prime example of joint instability and requires medical intervention. Tendons that are stretched and loose will result in a shoulder that is unstable, which could increase the likelihood of frequent dislocations, arthritis, pain, and limited motion.
- Arthritis: arthritis can be a part of the aging process, or it can be a direct result of a previous injury to the shoulder. Most people with arthritis in their shoulder begin to reduce their daily activities. This can lessen the pain, but it can also result in decreased range of motion.
- Fracture: any break in the bones of the upper arm, the clavicle, or the shoulder blade can result in severe pain. Many of these fractures will heal with minimal casting and splinting, but some will require surgery to fully correct. While the arm is in a cast, muscles of the shoulder and the upper arm can weaken or atrophy. Physical therapy may be needed after a shoulder fracture to regain arm strength and prevent future injury. Rehabilitation is an important part of fracture treatment.
Acute vs Chronic – Understanding Shoulder Pain
If you have been suddenly injured, such as in a car accident or in a fall, your shoulder pain is probably related to an acute injury. Once your injury heals, your pain should subside, as long as you follow the appropriate prescribed therapy. If your shoulder pain has been persistent and ongoing for months or years, then you likely have a chronic shoulder condition that must be addressed.
By definition, chronic pain is any type of pain that lasts for 6 months or longer and approximately 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain. An acute injury that results in acute pain can turn into a chronic pain condition—especially without treatment. If you suffer acute pain, you should be seen by a doctor to diagnose and treat the source. If the pain persists and becomes chronic, you should visit a doctor again to see what can be done to improve quality of life..
In order to determine the best course of treatment for alleviating your pain, your doctor will need to perform a variety of tests to diagnose your injury. Imaging tests, such as MRIs and Xrays can help physicians diagnose and locate the source of the injury and to determine which pain treatment options will work the best.
In general, shoulder pain responds well to a combination of medications and therapies that work in conjunction to reduce swelling and speed healing. This may include ice, heat, therapeutic ultrasound, physical or massage therapy, and steroid joint injections. If your shoulder injury is a tendon or ligament tear, fracture, or a dislocation, you may also need to rest your shoulder for a period of time.