Suffer From Shoulder Pain? Here’s How To Treat It.

While many of us strive to take care of or bodies, injuries still happen even with the best of protections and body mechanics. Never fear – while we never anticipate these, with a little anatomy knowledge and a little recovery know how you can get back to your everyday self in no time.

Note: This is the first in a series of articles on common injury sites on the body. Be sure to follow us on Instagram or Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss subsequent posts!

Muscular young man with inflamed shoulder on dark background

Common Injury Site: The Shoulder

The shoulder is the one joint we most often take for granted until it hurts. It is one of two joints (the other is the hip), which has the potential to have 360-degree movement. The shoulder, however, is a bit more precarious. While the shoulder is technically a ball and socket joint, the socket is super shallow. The muscles and tendons wrapping around it is essentially keeping the arm attached to the rest of the body. Before you freak out, let’s go over the anatomy and physiology of the amazing part of our bodies called the shoulder.

Anatomy & Physiology of The Shoulder

The shoulder consists of the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the manubrium (top part of the sternum). Many muscles pass around these bones, and these muscles assist in the movement of the humerus (upper arm bone) which meets up with a shallow cup called the glenoid cavity.  The muscles of the rotator cuff help to keep the humerus in that glenoid cavity while the arm is in movement.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), approximately 7.5 million people were treated in 2006 for shoulder issues, and roughly 4.1 million of these people were being treated for rotator cuff issues. Yes, that’s a lot of injuries which possibly could have led to surgery or invasive treatment. But, what can cause these to happen? Shoulder issues can come from just about everything you can do in your everyday life: overhead lifting, gardening, hanging pictures. They can also come about with athletic movement such as weightlifting, swimming, batting…you get the picture.

Cautionary Signs

It’s hard to tell sometimes if you are truly injured. Believe it or not, we can overlook strains, sprains, muscle spasms, even small fractures or separations. Sometimes we tweak things, they hurt for a few hours to a couple of days, and they just go away with a little ice, stretching and some NSAIDs if needed. However, be on the lookout for joint stiffness, decreasing strength, feeling like the shoulder would “pop out of joint” at any minute, swelling and or pain that is higher than you can normally stand. Any singular or combination of these can signal an injury. Get to a doctor quickly.

Treatments

Although treatments can and will vary from person to person, there are some that carry over.

  • Fractures can usually be treated with immobilization, pain meds, and ice. If the fracture is more involved, inserts of screws, plates and pins may be needed.
  • Separations: these would be based on how serious and the direction of the separation would be. More involved separation with ligament injury would involve surgery. Sadly, surgery for separation often has an unpredictable outcome. Although, the best outcome is always strived towards.
  • Dislocations:  the first treatment would always be to place the humerus back into the socket. This should always be done by a medical professional. Please do not attempt to relocate on your own, even if it is a common occurrence. Based on your age, surgery may be a treatment option, especially for repeat offenders. This would repair torn or worn soft tissue.
  • Tears: unfortunately the only way to deal with a muscle tear is surgery.

Pain in the shoulder. Muscular male body. Handsome bodybuilder posing on gray background. Low key close up studio shot

When it comes to general treatments, please always check with your doctor. There are always extenuating circumstances when it comes to injuries, and these suggestions are generalities and are associated with small injuries that can be worked through on your own. If pain or discomfort lasts more than one week, please talk to your physician.

  • Rest: I am not talking about becoming a completely immobile couch potato. This may be good for short-term, but long term, you could do more damage. However, yes, you do need to rest and do minimal movements until you’re able to get through a basic activity without pain.
  • Ice: Chances are when you first injure yourself, inflammation will be involved. If there is warmth and swelling in the area, ice for 20 minutes at a time to help flush that out.
  • Stretch: after resting and icing, try some small non-weight-bearing stretching. No inverted yoga poses here. Gentle stretching of the area is all you need. Gradually get into the stretch, hold for 20 seconds to start, and gently come out of it. Do not force it. If there is pain, stop and call your physician.
  • Kinesiology Tape: although the jury is still out on the efficacy of K tape, some people really like the extra insurance without breaking out a brace. Find a local practitioner that knows how to properly apply the tape (Physical Therapists, professional trainers, Chiropractors would be a good place to start) and can give you proper instructions on how to care for and remove it.
  • Physical Therapy: If there is nothing that you are doing that works, seek the help of professionals. Have your doctor refer you to one that specializes in shoulder injuries.
  • Massage Therapy: If it is a muscle spasm, or a low scale muscle injury, massage can help release muscle adhesions, flush out inflammation and help the muscle return normal.

Prevention

We have spoken on the types of injury, how to treat and the anatomy. But, how can you prevent injury? While there is no foolproof way to prevent all injury, there are some minor tweaks you can do to help prevent the most basic of injuries. First and foremost, use good body mechanics. If you are working out and just schlepping along without thinking about proper placement and alignment, you are wasting your time. Next, do some basic strength training to help the rotator cuff, pectorals, and back muscles to strengthen and help to support the shoulder mechanism. Weight training is always good for more than getting SWOL. It’s great for building bone mass [See How To Improve Your Health By Strengthening Your Bones], stability, and overall health of your body. I am not talking about power lifting, just hand weights or TheraBands will do the job. If your gym has a Pilates reformer, seek help with using it. It is a tremendous way to help in stretching and strengthening along with helping you with proper body mechanics while doing it. After strengthening, make sure you stretch!

[To find a Pilates gym in the Orange County area, click here]

Moving On

If you have ever had a shoulder injury, you know it can be hard to move on from it. Depending on the severity, your shoulder may never be the same. Don’t let that discourage you. If you sought treatment from a doctor, make sure you follow the treatment plan. True recovery takes time; Rome was not built in a day, people. It can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to 4-6 months (or even longer).

You want to do it right the first time.

Be patient and don’t get discouraged.

Michele Mack
Michele is an Orange County girl transported into an extra ordinary Midwestern world. She loves to be outdoors (when it’s not snowing) as the world’s okayest runner and aspiring dragon boat racer. In her spare time when not trying to educate the world on her profession, she is a hospital based Massage Therapist and Certified Pediatric Massage Therapist in Columbus Ohio. She resides there happily with her Texan husband, a grumpy old German Shepard mutt and a sassy toddler who strives for world domination. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at the links below.

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