“Ouch, my shoulder really hurts! What did I do wrong? Where did this soreness come from?”
Very likely your rotator cuff may be the cause of this pain. Most people don’t think about their shoulder during the course of the day. However, when it starts to hurt, you can’t sleep or you are having difficulty trying to perform the simplest activities, it is all you can think about! You learn that despite being a small area, it “shoulders” a big responsibility and is very important in everyday activities.
On the surface, the shoulder appears to be a simple mechanism, but in reality it is one of the most complex joints in the body because it is the most mobile. It is used in many everyday activities such as reaching, lifting, carrying, throwing, etc.
The shoulder is made up of three bones and four muscles (the rotator cuff). The rotator cuff muscles and their tendons (which attach to the bones) connect the upper arm bone (the humerus) to the shoulder blade and the collarbone. The rotator cuff is made up of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and the subscapularis.
Pain is typically your first clue that something is wrong with your shoulder. The rotator cuff is vulnerable to tendon damage and inflammation due to overuse, impingement of a tendon and partial or full tears of the tendons. Any of these conditions can make your shoulder weak, tender and painful. Common complaints are aching and burning pain between the shoulder and neck, pain over the top of the shoulder, headaches and numbness and tingling in the arm or hand. Rotator cuff injuries are more common the older you get as your muscles and tendons become weaker.
The earlier treatment begins the better. If you have a recent injury (acute), the best course of action is the R.I.C.E. regimen — Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation for up to 72 hours. With most rotator cuff problems that occur over time (chronic), the treatment generally involves altering activities, rest, an anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy to help you improve shoulder strength, flexibility and function.
There are two basic options for treatment: conservative, non-surgical and surgery. The conservative approach would involve seeing a physical therapist. A physical therapist will perform a health history, a thorough physical exam and conduct a series of tests of the shoulder to check for mobility and strength and help pinpoint the cause of the pain. In some cases, the results may determine the need for a referral to an orthopedic surgeon for further testing and possibly surgery.
Whether or not you have surgery, your ideal recovery depends on restoring your shoulder’s function. Your physical therapist will create a program using hands-on techniques to improve flexibility and pain-free range of motion, as well as create an exercise program to regain the strength and power you need to perform your daily activities and return to work or sports.
Now that your shoulder is healing, keep these tips in mind to keep your shoulder flexible, strong and prevent further injury:
- Ease yourself back into everyday activities.
- Keep active and incorporate your shoulder exercises into your normal routine.
- Listen to your body — don’t pull, push, lift or carry anything too heavy.
- Avoid long periods of overhead activity.
- Use good posture and don’t slouch.
- Don’t sleep on your injured shoulder.
- Keep your shoulders moving — inactivity will cause the shoulders to “freeze” up.