Shoulder Pain

March 2021

The word “shoulder” can be used synonymously with carrying or assuming a weight or burden. The anatomic shoulder joint holds to this meaning. It connects your neck and chest to your arm and is made up of your arm bone, collar bone, and shoulder blade. It is highly mobile and functions to position your hand in place and carry things when needed.

A shoulder can take quite a beating with daily use, injury, and poor posture or ergonomics. This can lead to pain, weakness, stiffness, instability, or even numbness. As a shoulder specialist, I’ll share some advice on common shoulder problems, as well as recommended maintenance and injury prevention.

Common Shoulder Problems

The most common shoulder problems I see with my patients are bursitis and tendinitis, rotator cuff tearing, and frozen shoulder. A rotator cuff is an important unit of four muscles that keep the ball and socket compressed together and help to move the shoulder around as needed. Bursitis is when the padding between the muscle and surrounding bones gets irritated and inflamed. Tendinitis is when the actual tendon part of the muscle can feel excess stress and be a source of symptoms. In some cases, this can progress to partial or complete tearing with natural wear and tear, or from injury. Frozen shoulder is a condition deeper to the rotator cuff that leads to motion loss and pain when the joint lining becomes overly tight and contracted.

Specific symptoms and their severity along with the cause can vary from patient to patient—as does the individualized treatment progression I recommend. Thankfully, most of the time the cure is conservative non-surgical treatment with time, rest, activity modifications, icing, medications, a home exercise program, and/or physical therapy. Occasionally injections and/or arthroscopic outpatient surgery could be needed for more advanced cases.

Maintenance and Prevention

Maintaining good routines and injury prevention can avoid shoulder problems in many cases. The shoulder problems I treat in my patients are often rooted in poor occupational or personal activity forms. Office work on a computer screen or desk for most of the day often leads to fatigue in the neck muscles and shoulders, causing patients to lean or slouch forward, setting them up for some of the problems mentioned.

Workers required to lift heavier weights over their heads repeatedly will, unfortunately, put more cumulative stress on their shoulders, leading to pain and problems. Occupational modifications, if caught early, can prevent general soreness from becoming more serious. Other patients who can be proactive are throwing athletes, from Little League to the weekend warriors to elite-level players. Routine stretching, maintaining good core strength and throwing form, and monitoring pitch counts and intervals are keys to staying in the game.

My top recommendation is to perform simple stretches 3 to 5 times per day, holding each stretch for 5 seconds. Start with shoulder shrugs up and down, forward, and most importantly backward, trying to touch the backs of the elbows together behind your back. Then rotate your neck side to side, bend it forward and backward, and tilt it side to side.

Good shoulder health is crucial for daily mobility, function, and even restful sleep. It can be maintained with routine stretching and mindfulness. Most issues will resolve with simple evaluation. For more significant or ongoing conditions or injuries, I recommend you make an appointment for further consultation and evaluation.