Shoulder pain and injury is fairly common. This is due in part to the complexity of the shoulder joint and the frequency of its use. It is a very mobile joint and the fact that the arm bone fits into the shoulder joint quite loosely to provide such a wide range of movement makes this area vulnerable to injury.

The shoulder joint is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. This joint is formed where the arm bone (humerus) fits into the shoulder blade (scapula), the way a ball fits into a socket. Lining the socket is a cartilage cuff (the labrum) which allows the bones to move smoothly within the joint. You may have already heard of the rotator cuff – the muscles and tendons that surround this shoulder joint to provide support and a wide range of movement. Protecting these tendons is the bursa- a small fluid filled sac.

Shoulder Pain

There are many reasons people experience shoulder pain, and they don’t all stem from a significant injury. Pain can arise from habitual bad posture, bad lifting technique, weakness in the surrounding muscles, or even stress.

Shoulder pain, like any other pain, can vary from person to person. The pain may be something you feel all the time, or it may only flare up when you move the arm or shoulder. It might last a short while, or it could be something that lingers for much longer.

However it is experienced, shoulder pain can have an impact on your life. You depend on your shoulders to lift and move your arms, so having pain or stiffness in this area can make everyday tasks much more difficult. Figuring out the cause of the discomfort can help you to identify possible ways of addressing the issue and minimising the pain. 

Causes of Shoulder Pain

There are certain activities that will put you at a higher risk of developing shoulder issues and people undertaking these activities should be mindful of this. This includes those playing contact sports, to those with health conditions such as diabetes and thyroid conditions, to those spending a lot of time sitting at work. If your shoulder, chest or neck has been injured in an incident, such as an auto accident, then this may also lead to pain.

  • At work and home – potential risk factors for developing shoulder pain include lifting loads that are too heavy or lifting improperly and slouching while sitting at a desk.
  • Playing sports – any sport that involves the shoulder or arms may cause shoulder pain. This may be from direct impact, especially in rugby where the shoulders are used in tackling, or from indirect straining of the joint through rapid arm movements, for example in racket sports such as tennis or badminton.

What You Can Do

If the pain is mild, you may be able to ease it yourself without medical intervention. However the pain probably won’t vanish overnight. You will need to try these methods for around two weeks before the pain starts to ease, and it can take four to six weeks to fully recover from mild pain:

  • Stay active and keep your shoulder and arm gently moving. If the pain is quite bad you may need to try over-the-counter painkillers in order to be able to maintain normal movement.
  • Try heat packs or cold presses on your shoulders to ease the soreness and improve mobility.
  • Avoid doing things that make the pain worse. For example, try to avoid heavy weights in the gym.
  • Don’t slouch when sitting or standing. Rolling your shoulders or bringing your neck forward to stare at a computer screen strains the shoulders and causes lots of aches and pains. Make sure to keep your back straight with shoulders pulled slightly back. You can also try sitting with a cushion behind your lower back to provide support and encourage your shoulders to stay back. Make sure your arms are supported.
  • It can help to remember to change positions when sitting in an office chair, and be mindful of whether you’re holding tension in your shoulders.

It’s best to see a doctor if:

  • The pain doesn’t improve after two weeks of following these tips
  • It’s very difficult or very painful to move your arm or shoulder
  • The pain started after an accident, as it may be a sign of injury

Indications of a more serious injury that may require more immediate medical attention include very sudden or very bad pain, can’t move your arm, pins and needles that won’t go away, lose feeling in arm or shoulder, or it is hot or cold to the touch. This may be a sign of a broken or dislocated bone, or a torn (ruptured) ligament or tendon.

If after two weeks the pain hasn’t eased, you may be referred to see a physiotherapist, who may recommend exercises to improve your range of movement and reduce the pain!

Onto Orthopedics

At Onto Orthopedics we are able to provide the help that you need to understand the causes of your shoulder pain and work towards addressing the issue. Contact us today to make an appointment!