Shoulder pain: Why it hurts and how to correctly manage it

Do you have shoulder pain? Are you a full-time parent, teacher, labourer or hairdresser?

These occupations listed are just a handful of people we see at Medicine in Motion who need help with shoulder pain, and it is more common than you think. Clinical terms you may have heard of such as impingement, tendinopathy, bursitis, shoulder instability, arthritis, frozen shoulder rotator cuff, dislocation are examples of the injuries we treat.

The shoulder is a complicated structure, it is made up with the arm bone (called humerus i.e. funny bone) that connects into the collar bone (clavicle), shoulder blade (scapula) and the rib cage. Forming the most mobile joint we have that can move in an incredible range of motion, making it susceptible to injuries. Additionally, on top of this structure includes numerous muscles that protect the joint and create stability.

When we combine these, it allows our shoulder to throw balls, lift heavy objects overhead, reach the back of our head to comb and wash our hair. Unfortunately, this can be a double edge sword, as having this luxury of incredible motion and movement inherently makes the structure unstable, making it quite prone to injury.  


How does shoulder pain occur?


You can develop a shoulder injury quite easily while you are exercising, working or even by seemingly harmless but frequent and repetitive movements. The pain may come on gradually or abruptly, and it may range from mild to unbearable pain. The most common reasons for a shoulder injury are as listed:

Traumatic injury: This can result from many ways such as landing on your hand with a straight arm, falling on your shoulder, attempting to carry an object overhead that is too heavy.

Overuse: participating infrequent and repetitive movements that involve the arm and shoulder such as intensive training routine of throwing, swimming, carrying objects etc. are susceptible to developing an overuse injury that develops into shoulder pain

Age: As we get older our muscle and bones become weaker and the natural wear and tear of living can weaken this structure (especially if you stop exercising this muscle, causing it to decrease in size).

Poor posture: We live in a society of poor posture primarily due to our environment of how we sit at our desk, use our phone or driving, the list is endless. As you probably have recognised from the list the common theme is how we perform these tasks i.e. hunching over. Being in these positions can decrease the space in our shoulder joint promoting a condition called “shoulder impingement.”


How do you treat shoulder pain?


While you may be enticed to stop exercising or do any activities that cause you pain but doing so can significantly make the problem much worse. This is because it allows the muscles around the joint to shorten and become stiff. From this, it will make it even hard for you to move the way you want and possibly change your movement patterns!

One of the most effective strategies is EXERCISE. By incorporating a rehabilitation program 3-4x times a week involving stretching, strengthening exercises around the shoulder joint and retraining movements of activities related to your everyday life, sport and work. We can manage shoulder pain and return to the activities that we enjoy best.


Is Prevention Possible?


YES, and as the old saying goes “prevention is better than cure”, therefore routinely being of aware of any soreness, unnatural noises or pain when doing certain movements is paramount to keeping a healthy and structurally safe shoulder.

A good preventative routine to keep the shoulder safe and secure include:

  •         Moving shoulder through a full range of motion regularly
  •         Light stretches around the joint
  •         Strengthening exercises of pressing overhead, pulling, pushing and isolating exercise of the rotator cuff
  •         Correcting posture
  •         Avoiding movements that put the shoulder in an unstable position (especially with a heavy load)


Final thought


It is vital if you have a shoulder injury to get it checked as soon as possible, as the longer you leave it the worse it will get and the longer the recovery.


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