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Shoulder Pain 101: Common Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Updated: Apr 1, 2023


Introduction

As a fellowship-trained orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon, I frequently encounter patients who suffer from shoulder pain. The shoulder is a complex joint, and there are numerous factors that can contribute to pain and discomfort. In this blog post, we will explore some of the most common causes of shoulder pain, their typical presentation, and the treatment options available.


1. Rotator Cuff Injuries

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is a rotator cuff injury. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and allow for a wide range of motion. Injuries to the rotator cuff can result from acute trauma, repetitive overhead movements, or age-related degeneration.

Symptoms:

  • Pain in the shoulder, often worsening at night

  • Weakness and difficulty lifting the arm overhead

  • A popping or clicking sensation during certain movements

Treatment:

  • Rest and activity modification

  • Physical therapy to improve strength and flexibility

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Corticosteroid injections

  • In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary


2. Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness, pain, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. It can result from an injury, surgery, or may develop spontaneously without an apparent cause. Frozen shoulder typically occurs in three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing.

Symptoms:

  • Gradual onset of shoulder pain and stiffness

  • Severely restricted range of motion

  • Pain may initially be mild and worsen over time

Treatment:

  • Physical therapy to restore range of motion and strength

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Corticosteroid injections

  • In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to release the tight joint capsule


3. Bursitis and Tendinitis

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues in the shoulder joint. Tendinitis refers to inflammation of the tendons. Both conditions can cause shoulder pain and are often the result of repetitive overhead movements or overuse.

Symptoms:

  • Pain and tenderness in the shoulder, often exacerbated by movement

  • Swelling and warmth over the affected area

Treatment:

  • Rest and activity modification

  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medications

  • Physical therapy to improve strength and flexibility

  • Corticosteroid injections


4. Arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the cartilage within the shoulder joint, leading to inflammation, pain, and stiffness. The most common type of arthritis affecting the shoulder is osteoarthritis, which is typically a result of aging and wear and tear.

Symptoms:

  • Gradual onset of shoulder pain and stiffness

  • Limited range of motion

  • Grinding or clicking sensation in the joint

Treatment:

  • Conservative measures, such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and corticosteroid injections

  • In advanced cases, shoulder replacement surgery may be necessary


Conclusion

Shoulder pain can be caused by various conditions, each with its own set of symptoms and treatment options. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, it's important to consult with an orthopaedic sports medicine specialist, such as myself, to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Remember that early intervention can help prevent further complications and speed up your recovery process.




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