What Your Shoulder Pain Is Trying to Tell You

The shoulders are one of the most flexible joints in the body, and they play a critical role in everyday movements like reaching, lifting, and carrying. When something goes wrong with your shoulder, it can cause a major disruption to your daily routine. In this blog, we’ll explore the many factors that can contribute to shoulder pain, and when you should be worried.

A normal shoulder should have a flexion of 180 degrees and allow you to reach up, down, forward, and backward with ease. When our shoulders are incapacitated through injury, chronic pain, or arthritis, we experience obvious limitations.

Given how much work our shoulders do for us, shoulder injuries are quite common. This is especially true if you perform repetitive overhead motions such as playing tennis, or even certain household chores. However, not all shoulder pain is caused by injury or overuse. If you suffer from shoulder pain, which impacts 18-26% of adults at a given time, it’s helpful to understand the potential causes.

Meet the potential culprits of your discomfort:

  • Arthritis

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) defines arthritis simply as the inflammation of one or more joints. Arthritis in the shoulder may cause pain and stiffness there, making it difficult to do all the great activities our shoulders help us with. There are several types of arthritis that may impact the shoulder, including osteoarthritis (OA) and rotator cuff tear arthropathy – which develops after a large rotator cuff tear. Arthritis in your shoulders may progressively worsen over time, further limiting your range of motion and intensifying your pain. You may also hear a clicking or snapping sound known as crepitus.

  • Tendinitis & Bursitis

Shoulder tendinitis and bursitis are two common causes of shoulder pain and stiffness. These conditions may occur through sports injuries, overuse, or a sudden injury such as sustaining a heavy blow to the shoulder. When rotator cuff tendons or bicep tendons become inflamed and swell, shoulder tendinitis occurs. For bursitis, the bursa lies just above the rotator cuff tendons and helps protect them. If your bursa becomes inflamed, this causes shoulder bursitis. Both conditions can occur together and athletes and people who do repetitive overhead motions for work are most susceptible.

  • Soft Tissue Tears

As the name suggests, the rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help to lift and rotate your arm. Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain and bring 2 million Americans to their doctor’s office each year. You can experience either a partial tear (when the tendon is frayed) or a complete tear (when the tendon is detached from the bone). Rotator cuff tears occur overtime either from injury or degeneration.

  • Instability

If you’re experiencing shoulder instability, you may feel the ball of your shoulder joint slide out of the socket either partially or fully. When the “ball” or humeral head slides out of this socket, it can be a full dislocation or a partial dislocation, known as subluxation. Dislocation is most common through injury while subluxation commonly occurs through overuse and repetitive motions.

  • Fractures

Shoulder fractures resulting from trauma to the shoulder cause severe pain and are much harder to ignore than some of the other conditions highlighted here. After a fracture, you may experience pain, limited mobility, swelling, bruising, or a grinding sensation when trying to move the joint. Your shoulder may also appear physically deformed.

  • Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, occurs when the connective tissue in your shoulder becomes stiff and tight, usually due to inflammation. If you’ve had to keep your shoulder still for a long period of time—perhaps following surgery—you are more likely to develop the condition. Although most frozen shoulders heal on their own, range-of-motion exercises are a recommended form of treatment.

When to worry about shoulder pain

Our shoulders play critical roles in our day-to-day lives so it’s important to keep them healthy and in good function.

While some causes of shoulder pain can be treated through rest, icing the joint, and over-the-counter pain relievers, pain that doesn’t dissipate after a few weeks is a clear sign that something is wrong. Pain that is severe, limits your mobility, impacts your quality of life, keeps you from sleeping, or gets progressively worse are all causes for concern.

Be sure to consider your options for shoulder pain treatment that can help recover your range of motion and get you back to the activities you love. For details on Anika’s innovative portfolio of shoulder solutions and how they can help you, read more here.

If shoulder pain is affecting your quality of life or impacting a friend or family member, use our Find a Doctor tool to locate an expert that is familiar with Anika’s solutions.


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