The shoulders are some of the most complex joints in the body. Their structure (ball and socket) allows for three separate planes of motion (side to side, front to back, and rotating), in contrast to an elbow joint, for example, which is a hinge joint that allows for only one plane of motion. Unfortunately, though, this complexity and range of motion comes with a price: There’s a lot that can “go wrong” with the shoulder.
Although shoulder pain is relatively common, the physical therapists at PhysioDC (Daniel Baumstark, Christopher Cousins, and Kira Davis) say that you should never resign yourself to living with your shoulder pain. On the contrary, you can take action to stop your shoulder issues and start living a pain-free life.
What causes shoulder pain?
As a result of their lifestyles, certain individuals are at higher risk for shoulder injury than others. For example, construction workers, painters, movers, and athletes that play overhead sports (such as swimming, pitching in baseball, tennis, or climbing) tend to keep their arms overhead for long periods of time. This type of repetitive motion puts them at a greater risk for shoulder injury.
That being said, however, everyone – especially older individuals – is at risk for shoulder injury, whether that injury is caused by overuse or underuse. Overuse is one of the most common culprits for shoulder pain. The shoulders’ joints, ligaments, and muscles (especially the rotator cuff muscles) can suffer trauma from regular wear and tear, which can cause substantial long term discomfort.
Believe it or not, though, underuse is also a common culprit for shoulder pain. If someone does not exercise or use their shoulder muscles enough, the shoulder could become “frozen” or simply too weak to function properly, causing pain when it is used.
When is shoulder pain a problem?
So when is it time to take action about your shoulder pain? PhysioDC’s experts have this to say on the issue: If your shoulder pain interferes with your daily life, it’s time for you to find a solution. You should talk to your physical therapist or doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Pain when raising your arm
- Persistent pain (pain that lasts more than a few days)
- Pain when leaning or sleeping on your shoulder
- Swelling or bruising around your shoulder
- Weakness or pain in the arm that makes it difficult for you to complete everyday activities (such as reaching upwards, carrying a clothes hamper, opening heavy doors, carrying a child, lifting a grocery bag, putting on or removing shirts, etc.)
- Inability to use your arm
What can I do to combat my shoulder pain?
If you are plagued by any of the above symptoms or if you fail the milk test, consider contacting a doctor or physical therapist. Under their guidance, there are many treatment options that could help you recover from shoulder pain. Some common pieces of advice include the following:
- Exercising regularly with low-impact activities that do not cause you pain (swimming, power walking with arm movement, mild yoga, tai chi, etc.). This can help to strengthen your shoulder muscles, lessening shoulder pain and helping to prevent future shoulder issues.
- Observing proper posture. Poor posture can result in body strain, which can lead to shoulder problems.
- Strength and flexibility training to balance the muscles of the chest, abdomen, upper back, and shoulder to help keep the body aligned.
If you experience any pain with the above exercises, however, it’s important to cease the activity immediately. Only your doctor or physical therapist can help you determine what level of pain is safe and acceptable as you travel the road to recovery, and if you push through the pain without proper guidance, you could worsen your shoulder problems severely.
Shoulder pain doesn’t have to prevent you from using your body the way it was meant to be used. With the help of a medical professional, you can start reducing your shoulder pain and improving your life.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com.