Shoulder Problems

Shoulder problems develop from every day wear and tear, overuse, or an injury. They can also be caused by the natural process of aging.

Each year, shoulder problems account for over 1.7 million visits to orthopedic surgeons.

Common shoulder problems include:

  • Shoulder dislocation and separation
  • Tendinitis, bursitis, and impingement syndrome
  • Torn rotator cuff and frozen shoulder
  • Shoulder fracture and arthritis of the shoulder

What is shoulder pain?

Most of the people will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives. Shoulder pain is any pain or discomfort that usually affects the shoulder or surrounding areas. The shoulder is the body’s most mobile joint and is made up of a ball and socket arrangement. The shoulder is made up of three components: upper arm bone (humerus), collarbone (clavicle), and shoulder blade (scapula), along with muscles, ligaments and tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. If any of these structures gets irritated, injured or inflamed, it results in severe shoulder pain.

A common traumatic cause of shoulder pain is a tear of the rotator cuff, the muscles and tendons that hold the arm bone (humerus) in place in the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff creates the arm’s range of motion. When the rotator cuff is damaged, you may experience shoulder pain when moving your arm.

Other common causes of shoulder pain include arthritis and injury caused by excessive, repetitive, or overhead motions that involve the shoulder, such as occurs with baseball pitching or while swimming, playing tennis.

Generally, shoulder pain caused by a minor condition, such as a small muscle strain, resolves by itself in a few days or weeks with basic self-care measures, such as proper icing the shoulder, resting the shoulder, and taking over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce the pain.

Musculoskeletal causes of shoulder pain:

Shoulder pain may be caused by injury or disease of the muscles, bones, tendons or ligaments of the shoulder, neck, or upper arm including:

  • Activities involving repetitive shoulder use
  • Arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout
  • Bone fractures, such as a fractured humerus (upper arm bone) or collarbone (clavicle)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of fluid-filled sacs that protect joints and allow movement)
  • Cervical spondylitis
  • Fibromyalgia (chronic condition causing pain, stiffness and tenderness)
  • Frozen shoulder syndrome (muscles, tendons and ligaments become stiff resulting in painful and difficult movement)
  • Poor shoulder posture or keeping the shoulder in an abnormal positions for long periods, such as when sleeping
  • Rotator cuff tear or rotator cuff tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons of the rotator cuff)
  • Shoulder joint dislocation or shoulder separation (tearing or stretching of ligaments)
  • Whiplash (sprained or strained neck)

How Are Shoulder Problems Diagnosed?

Following are some of the ways doctors diagnose shoulder problems:

  • X-ray
  • Arthrogram
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Medical history
  • Physical examination to feel for injury and discover the limits of movement, location of pain, and extent of joint instability.