Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

From physical jobs to everyday functions, your shoulders can actually take quite a beating. However, we usually don’t notice all of the work that we put them through until something isn’t quite right. Sometimes it’s hard to notice a good thing until it’s gone: your shoulder health. 

With shoulder injuries come stiffness, soreness, and oftentimes a loss of range of motion. Not ideal. From heavy construction work to cooking dinner to reaching onto that top shelf in your closet, our shoulders really play a large role in many everyday activities. When our shoulder health is compromised, it’s easy to feel in many different ways throughout a normal day. 

If you’re one of many suffering from shoulder pain, in this article we address some of the basics to help you understand your condition and jumpstart your healing process.

Overuse-Related Shoulder Injuries 

This one tells it like it is: some shoulder injuries come from plain overuse. Maybe you have a physical job that requires frequent heavy lifting or you started an intense workout routine; whatever it is, if you’re overusing the joint, eventually you’ll find your breaking point. Below are two of the most common overuse shoulder injuries. 

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Your rotator cuffs within each shoulder carry a heavy brunt of the shoulder work that we put these joints through. Essentially, your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that acts as stabilizers within your shoulder. Sound important? They are! 

These cuffs can become strained fairly easily with overuse. For some, it’s a job that requires a good amount of heavy lifting or pounding. For others, the culprits are the sports that require throwing and blocking. 

Regardless of how you injured your shoulder, you may be experiencing rotator cuff tendonitis if you begin to feel pain with overhead motion or a loss of strength or motion within your arm. The good news is if you catch this tendonitis early, it’s generally pretty easily treated with some simple rest, ice, and prescribed at-home exercises.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Rotator cuff tears can come from either overuse OR a more traumatic, sudden accident. It’s important to treat rotator cuff tendonitis early— if you forego treatment and choose to work or play through the pain, you could be putting yourself at risk to actually tear a ligament. It should go without saying that a torn ligament is much worse than tendonitis. Of course, you can also get a rotator cuff tear from a sudden accident.

Signature symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include shooting pain down the side of your arm from your shoulder as well as pain and weakness within your shoulder, especially with overhead activities. 

Though many rotator cuff tears are treatable with ice, rest, and a regimented rehab exercise routine, it’s important to seek medical help for an accurate diagnosis as early treatment is key. A delayed approach to rehab may put your tendon’s ability to heal at risk; the longer the rotator cuff goes without treatment with a tear, the more it begins to retract, decreasing your chances of a full recovery. In short: stay on top of this injury! Medium tears tend to respond well to appropriate conservative rehab; seek out a prescribed plan from a professional as soon as you suspect this injury. 

Severity Of Shoulder Injuries

Though the injury to the rotator cuff is a common issue, the shoulder is so complex that the severity of these injuries can vastly vary. A “strain” of the muscles or tendons within the shoulder is generally seen as a mild injury, while a tear can be moderate to severe, depending on how much tissue has actually torn. Dislocation of the shoulder, fractures, joint instability, and pinched nerves within the shoulder can also be culprits of pain. 

As we mentioned previously, those who have jobs that require heavy lifting and use, and those who play impact sports are common victims of shoulder pain and injury. However, it’s worth noting that our shoulders and joints also become more susceptible to injury as we age. 

Preventative Care For Your Shoulders

To take better care of your shoulders, keep these two maxims in mind: a range of motion and strength. At-home exercises for shoulder health aren’t necessarily focusing on building muscle, but rather promoting a good, pain-free range of motion and adequate strength to perform day-to-day activities, pain-free. 

Bear in mind: these exercises are for preventative care only! If you’re already experiencing shoulder pain or discomfort, it’s important to seek care immediately to properly diagnose what’s really going on. From there, a medical professional can point you in the right direction of what exercises may be beneficial to your specific injury. 

Pendulum Movement

Bend gently at the waist while engaging your core and keeping your back flat. Let one arm hang down, and gently swing it forward and back 2-3 times. Pause, and repeat the exercises with the same arm side-to-side. Repeat these swings on the other arm. 

Wall Stretches

Facing a wall, stand close enough to touch it easily. Reach one arm out to your side and lean into the wall as your mobility and comfort allow. You should feel a gentle stretch in your shoulder as you lean further in. Hold for several seconds, release and repeat on both sides as needed. 

Other small (yet significant) things that you can do at home to help with good overall shoulder health include: maintaining good posture, avoiding overhead movements for rest, and avoiding carrying heavy bags on one shoulder. 

How Chiropractic Can Help With Shoulder Injuries

Another great way to stay on top of your shoulder health is by receiving consistent chiropractic treatment. Not to mention, your chiropractor can also help to properly diagnose your shoulder injury, which is a huge part of receiving the correct care.

Through the use of adjustments of the spine, neck, and extremities, chiropractic can help to realign the body and provide real relief. Believe it or not, these gentle adjustments help to decrease inflammation, relieve pressure, reduce nerve irritability, and ultimately allow your entire body to relax and allow actual healing to take place. By working consistent chiropractic care into your rehabilitation routine, you could cut down on your healing time and increase your overall quality of life. That’s a huge win-win. Your practitioner can also help you work in appropriate at-home exercises to accelerate the healing process outside of office hours. 

Whether you’re working through a shoulder injury currently or looking to get help proactively, chiropractic care can help with overall shoulder health. Schedule your chiropractic appointment online or call (626) 469-7478.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.

Senior male tennis player with shoulder pain sitting on bench at court

How To Knock Out Shoulder Pain

That nagging shoulder ache…the sharp pain when you move your arm or the twinge between your shoulder blades. Sometimes, you even feel shoulder pain in your neck. Regardless, it translates to constant and uncomfortable pain, often inhibiting daily activities.

So what do you do and is surgery in your future?

Sadly, many are told that surgery is their only option as the next step toward relief. In reality, there are some truly amazing conservative care options to fully explore before scheduling time in the OR, if you’re willing to commit to a treatment regime. 

But first, let’s explore what causes chronic shoulder pain, your best non-surgical treatment options, and what’s involved in each.

What Causes Chronic Shoulder Pain?

Our shoulders are actually the most mobile of all our joints, making them even more susceptible to overuse and injury. One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is a rotator cuff tear. Simply put, this injury is a tear within the rotator cuff tendons in your shoulder. This tear or series of tears can happen from sudden trauma, like in an accident involving lifting heavy weight or an unexpected fall. It can also develop slowly over time through many micro-traumas as an overuse injury. 

Symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include pain, weakness, and a loss or partial loss of range of motion around the affected joint and can grow increasingly unpleasant. Many people also hear a clicking sound when they try to raise their arm. 

Another common cause of shoulder pain is an injury called “frozen shoulder.” Frozen shoulder generally operates through a series of three phases, starting with “freezing.” This phase is characterized by shoulder pain first, but then a progressive loss of range of motion within the shoulder. Stiffness of the shoulder sets in to signal phase two, before the “thawing” phase three takes over to allow a gradual return to movement. 

Other shoulder pain can be derived from bursitis, rotator cuff impingement, or even arthritis in the shoulder. 

At-Home Treatment For Shoulder Pain

The first step to managing your shoulder pain is to get a proper diagnosis. Frozen shoulder is commonly misdiagnosed as a rotator cuff tear, so be sure to give your doctor as many details as you can. 

Rotator Cuff Tear

Should your diagnosis indicate a rotator cuff tear, early treatment is key. If you delay the structured healing of this tendon, the rotator cuff begins to retract, inhibiting the success of both conservative and invasive treatments. The good news is that small and medium tears respond well to conservative rehab. This includes a carefully structured rehabilitation plan with appropriate exercises to take you through the various healing stages. Many have also experienced relief from applying both ice and heat to the area. Pacing your rehab is also important, avoiding excessive use but not limiting mobilization either, as light movement can actually help the healing process. 

Frozen Shoulder

If you’re managing a frozen shoulder, be sure to act appropriately according to the stage your shoulder is currently in. Getting overzealous with a rehab plan is a recipe to set yourself further back on your healing timeline. For example, during the “freezing” stage, gentle joint mobilizations and stretches can be tolerated, but aggressive soft-tissue treatment may actually aggravate the injury further. Use pain as an indicator and try to stay on the conservative side until you reach phase two. 

Once you’re in phase two, your joint can handle a bit more of a treatment and structured rehab plan, including mobilizations with movement. Phase three is where you can really begin to see the benefit of getting deeper and more sophisticated with movement, exercises, and stretches. 

Keep in mind that rehabbing a frozen shoulder can feel like a long game; many cases report up to 30 months before full healing is achieved. This makes patience and perspective all the more important throughout your recovery process. With health on the other side, it’s worth it!

Chiropractic Care For Shoulder Pain

Chiropractic treatment is another great option within the conservative care realm to help with shoulder pain and other chronic shoulder issues. The gentle adjustments that your practitioner may apply help to realign the spine and extremities for better overall function during the healing process. This can help to loosen up the body as a whole, as well as decrease inflammation. Depending on your specific case and the severity of your shoulder injury, some additional manual therapy may also be applied to encourage healing. Your chiropractor can also help prescribe the best at-home exercises to quicken your recovery time outside of the office and guide you through the phases of recovery accordingly.

By scheduling regular chiropractic care, you can help to keep your body’s response system in tip-top shape and minimize inflammation. During the initial evaluation, we will go over your symptom history in detail and construct a treatment plan that you are completely comfortable with before moving forward. 

Don’t put off your healing; schedule an appointment online or call (626) 469-7478.