Understanding & Treating Shoulder Pain

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Shoulder pain comes in many forms and can be treated in a nearly infinite number of ways, depending on what it is that is causing your discomfort. For mild to moderate shoulder aches that don’t interfere with your quality of life and are temporary, over-the-counter remedies and medications may solve the problem. For more severe or persistent pain, however, medical intervention may be necessary to identify the cause of your pain and find a more effective remedy.

Common Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder is one of the most complicated areas of the body from a physical standpoint. Keeping it healthy and strong requires a network of muscles, joints, tendons, and bones working together in perfect harmony.

If something goes wrong with one of these moving parts, it could result in a great deal of discomfort and render your shoulder practically useless until the damage is repaired.

Understanding the source of the pain is the first step toward identifying the proper treatment. Below are a few potential causes of shoulder pain to consider:

  • Broken arm or collarbone
  • Dislocation
  • Heart attack
  • Ruptured tendons
  • Shoulder dislocations
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Strains & sprains
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Strains and sprains
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries

Most shoulder issues occur when the soft tissues within the joint and shoulder break down. Both adults and children can experience a shoulder injury that results in shoulder pain. Of course, you will need to see a physician to determine the exact cause of your pain and, in many cases, the appropriate treatment for your pain.

Types of Treatments that May be Prescribed

To learn the cause of your shoulder pain, your physician will perform a physical exam, ask you questions about the pain (such as when and how it started), and possibly send you for imaging tests, such as an x-ray, CT scan, MRI or ultrasound.

Depending on the type of injury you have suffered to your shoulder, you could be advised to consider any number of treatment options, including:

  • Ice or cold compresses
  • Prescribed shoulder exercises
  • Over-the-counter rubs, creams or ointments
  • Heat therapy
  • Non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery
  • Chiropractic treatments

Your doctor will be able to help you determine which of the treatments above might be best for you.

What Type of Doctor to See for Shoulder Pain?

If you have an urgent care clinic or facility nearby you might want to pay a visit if your shoulder pain is related to an injury, the pain is intense, you are unable to move your arm away from your body, the joint looks wrong, or you are experiencing sudden swelling.

If an urgent care clinic is not available near you, consider an emergency room in these situations. In some instances, the best course of action is to visit an emergency room to receive prompt medical attention. For instance, left arm pain or shoulder pain may be indicative of a heart attack.

Your regular physician (or pediatrician if your child has shoulder pain) is an appropriate choice if you’re experiencing shoulder pain along with redness, swelling, tenderness, or inflammation around the joint. In any of these situations, medical professionals will be able to render quality care and recommend referrals to specialists that may be needed to treat your specific should pain and discomfort.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, you should ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you will be best served by consulting an orthopedic surgeon:

  1. Are you able to rotate your arm in all the normal positions?
  2. Do you feel like your shoulder is could easily pop or slide out of socket?
  3. Do you have sufficient strength in your shoulder to engage in the activities you normally participate in?

If you answered “yes” to either of the first two questions or “no” to the last one, then an orthopedic surgeon might be necessary to help you determine the best treatment for your shoulder pain problems.

Shoulder pain is no laughing matter. In fact, it is often the sign of a potentially significant injury. Without proper treatment, you could prolong the pain needlessly while delaying your recovery, continue to lose strength in your shoulder and arm, experience limited range of motion, and be forced to miss out on activities that are important to you because of your injury.


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