At some point in all of our lives, almost every one of us experiences some kind of shoulder pain. We overdo it when working out, play a little too roughly with the kids, or forget to warm up before pitching softball. But there are some types of shoulder pain that can be a little more serious than others. Some of the most common reasons for painful or stiff shoulders are tendonitis, frozen shoulder, dislocation, rotator cuff tear, or shoulder instability.
Tendonitis is the most common diagnosis for people who have shoulder pain. In the shoulder, it is the rotator cuff that is most likely to develop this condition. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that attach your arm to your shoulder and allow you to move it around freely. Tendonitis is basically what it sounds like, the irritation and inflammation of the tendons. You can get tendonitis from simply using your shoulder too much or in an improper way. To get relief from this kind of shoulder pain, stop doing what made you sore in the first place! It seems obvious, but it really is the first thing you should do to treat your pain. Next, apply ice or a cold pack to the sore shoulder. Cold helps numb the area and reduce swelling. If you can take anti-inflammatory medication, they will also help you find some relief.
Rotator cuff tears, on the other hand, are a completely different animal. A common symptom of this injury is pain across the top of the shoulder and down the arm to the elbow. Usually the joint becomes painful to use and noticeably weak. This condition means that the muscles have actually torn part of the way (or sometimes all the way) across. In these cases, most injuries can be treated with physical therapy and medication. However, some rotator cuff tears require surgery to correct them.
Another common culprit for shoulder stiffness is frozen shoulder. This is another condition that is exactly what it sounds like – the shoulder “freezes” up and is hard to move. This condition is different, though, because too much movement does not usually cause it. In fact, frozen shoulder usually just appears for no apparent reason. People between 40 and 60 are most likely to get this condition, and women are twice as likely to get it than men. The joint capsule around the shoulder becomes thick and scarred, and it becomes very difficult to move. Luckily, though, this problem does get better. There are some things you can do to help, such as doing light exercises and stretching. The best way to learn these exercises is to visit a physical therapist. Applying moist heat is also a great way to help with both the stiffness and the pain.
When the bones of the arm come out of the shoulder socket itself, this is called shoulder dislocation. This is normally very painful. The arm may be hanging at an unusual angle. Sports injuries and falls are the most common causes. If you’ve ever seen the “Lethal Weapon” movies, you may be familiar with “the Riggs method” of repairing this type of injury, but DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Dislocations are best treated by a doctor. Once the joint is put back in place, the arm is usually put in a sling to heal.