Shoulder Pain

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The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body because there is a group of four tendons in the shoulder, called the rotator cuff, that give the shoulder a wide range of motion.

The most common cause of shoulder pain occurs when rotator cuff tendons become trapped under the bony area in the shoulder. The tendons become inflamed or damaged. This condition is called rotator cuff tendinitis. The tendon can also develop either a partial or complete tear, where the tendon is pulled off from the bone.

Shoulder pain may also be caused by:

  • Arthritis in the shoulder joint
  • Bone spurs in the shoulder area
  • Bursitis, inflammation of a fluid-filled sac (bursa) that normally protects the joint and helps it move smoothly
  • Tears of the rotator cuff tendons
  • Broken shoulder bone
  • Dislocation of the shoulder
  • Shoulder separation
  • Frozen shoulder, which occurs when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments inside the shoulder become stiff, making movement difficult and painful
  • Overuse or injury of nearby tendons, such as the bicep muscles of the arms

Treatment

At home:

  • Put ice on the shoulder area for 15 minutes, then leave it off for 15 minutes. Do this 3 to 4 times a day for 2 to 3 days. Wrap the ice in cloth. Do not put ice directly on the skin because this can result in frostbite.
  • Rest your shoulder for the next few days.
  • Slowly return to your regular activities. A physical therapist can help you do this safely.
  • Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) may help reduce inflammation and pain.

Call one of our health care providers if you have:

  • Shoulder pain with a fever, swelling, or redness
  • Problems moving the shoulder
  • Pain for more than 1 to 2 weeks, even after home treatment
  • Swelling of the shoulder
  • Red or blue color of the skin of the shoulder area

Our health care providers will perform a physical exam and closely evaluate your shoulder. You will be asked questions to help the provider understand your shoulder problem. Your provider may recommend treatment for shoulder pain including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Injection of an anti-inflammatory medicine called corticosteroid (steroid injection)
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery may be needed if all other treatments do not work
  • Surgery is often done arthroscopically, in a minimally invasive fashion, and is very effective in restoring good range of motion to the shoulder.
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