Shoulder Pain: Most Common Causes and How to Fix It

Pain, stiffness, or weakness in the shoulder can make it difficult to complete everyday tasks. Simple movements like reaching for something above your head, driving a car, or brushing your hair can be uncomfortable and limiting. As one of the most mobile joints in the body, the shoulder is susceptible to injury. Anyone can experience a shoulder injury, but athletes who participate in overhead sports, and individuals who have jobs lifting overhead are more susceptible to a shoulder injury.

If you have persistent shoulder pain, it may be time to see a shoulder doctor. Shoulder doctor Richard Cunningham, MD has the experience and expertise to diagnose and treat shoulder pain. Although there are a number of possible causes of shoulder pain, the most common causes of shoulder pain are:

In this article, Dr. Cunningham discusses common causes of shoulder pain, and how to fix them.

Common Symptoms of Shoulder Pain

An acute shoulder injury typically results in immediate bruising and swelling. Other shoulder conditions may exhibit different symptoms. Common shoulder pain symptoms include:

  • Pain, ranging from dull to sharp
  • Referred pain down the side or front of the arm
  • Pain at night
  • Decreased range of motion in the shoulder complex
  • Loss of shoulder strength and function

Rotator Cuff Injuries and Treatment

The rotator cuff is made of four muscles that surround the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is responsible for connecting the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. Rotator cuff issues can occur either due to overuse, or an acute injury. Rotator cuff tears are commonly seen in athletes who participate in overhead sports, such as swimming, tennis, baseball, and volleyball.

Initial rotator cuff issues typically include rotator cuff tendonitis and bursitis. Tendonitis occurs when the rotator cuff tendon becomes inflamed and irritated due to overuse. Bursitis is when the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that minimize friction as the shoulder joint moves, becomes swollen. Shoulder tendonitis and bursitis cause pain in the front and side of the shoulder. In addition, patient’s might feel some stiffness.

In many cases, treatment for these types of rotator cuff injuries involve rest, ice, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. After a few weeks, most people with tendonitis recover, according to shoulder doctor Richard Cunningham, MD. It is still important to receive an examination from a shoulder specialist, to rule out other conditions within the shoulder complex.

More severe rotator cuff pain can be due to a partial, or complete tear of the rotator cuff. In a complete or “full thickness” rotator cuff tear, one of the rotator cuff tendons has complete detachment from its attachment on the top of the arm bone (humerus). Patients with rotator cuff tears experience immediate weakness in the shoulder, along with pain in the shoulder and upper arm. In most cases a partial, or complete rotator cuff tear will require rotator cuff surgery in order to return to full activity.

Shoulder Instability and Treatment

As the most mobile joint in the body, the shoulder joint is also the most susceptible to dislocations and instability. Shoulder instability is a condition in which the humeral head of the arm gets pushed out of the glenoid, or joint socket. The humeral head can get pushed off the edge of the glenoid (a glenohumeral joint dislocation). However, the humeral head can get pushed only partially out of the glenoid (a glenohumeral joint subluxation).

Most commonly, shoulder instability is a result of a shoulder dislocation. A shoulder dislocation is typically due to a hard fall, with impact on an outstretched arm. When this happens, the humeral head can be pushed completely out of the glenoid and dislocates. During this type of event, the labrum and the ligaments are usually torn away from the front edge of the glenoid. If the labrum and ligaments tear with a shoulder dislocation, they usually do not heal in their original position. This can then lead to chronic shoulder instability.

If a patient continues to experience repeated episodes of dislocation or general instability, it is important to seek treatment so that the condition does not worsen. Young patients, particularly males who engage in contact sports like football, are at particularly high risk of having further dislocations after sustaining a first dislocation. The more shoulder instability episodes that occur, the greater the long-term impact on the tendons and ligaments. There can also be cartilage damage that occurs due to the shear impact of the humeral head forcefully sliding out of the shoulder socket. In cases of chronic shoulder instability, shoulder surgeon Richard Cunningham, MD performs an innovative minimally invasive arthroscopic labral repair, to treat chronic shoulder instability.

Shoulder Osteoarthritis and It’s Treatment

Shoulder osteoarthritis happens when cartilage, which is the cushioning material that covers the ends of your bones, deteriorates leading to pain and stiffness in the joint. Osteoarthritis causes a deep ache in the back of the shoulder complex. As osteoarthritis worsens, stiffness in the shoulder develops. People with osteoarthritis are typically unable to reach behind their back.

Osteoarthritis symptoms develop over time. For some patients, an old shoulder injury from sports or some other activity, may kick off the degenerative process that years later results in osteoarthritis. But many people have no specific cause — it’s just general wear and tear of the shoulder, over time.

Treatment for osteoarthritis typically involves physical therapy, NSAIDs and ice. If the condition is severe, shoulder joint replacement surgery may be an option.

If you are suffering from shoulder pain due to a rotator cuff injury, shoulder instability, or shoulder osteoarthritis, contact shoulder specialist Richard Cunningham, MD and his team today: 970-569-3240. He can get you back to the activities you love.

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Rediscover your inner athlete

Dr. Cunningham specializes in the treatment of knee, shoulder, and sports injuries.

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