A little snap, crackle and pop may be good for your rice crispy treats, but it’s not so great for your shoulder. In fact, your morning stretches shouldn’t sound like the Keebler elves. And yet, up to 26% of Americans suffer from chronic shoulder pain, making it one of the most common regional pain syndromes, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Shoulder pain can drastically limit your quality of life. If it’s severe enough, it can prevent you from enjoying your favorite hobbies, like golf or tennis. In some more severe cases, it can cause chronic headaches and stiffness, where the symptoms alone are just debilitating.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for chronic shoulder pain. And for readers who are concerned about needing shoulder surgery, the best way to prevent surgery is to be proactive about more conservative treatment methods, such as physical therapy for your shoulder.
In this page, we’re going to walk you through all things shoulder pain: symptoms, common causes and treatments available. We’ll also give you some warning signs that indicate when you need to schedule an appointment sooner rather than later.
Symptoms of Shoulder Pain
Sometimes you wake up with a sore, slightly tweaked shoulder from sleeping in the wrong position all night. You might be a little sore and tight the next morning, but all in all you’re OK and your shoulder loosens up as the day goes on. That is what we would call a very mild, temporary symptom.
However, sometimes you may experience symptoms of pain and discomfort for a few days in a row, despite trying to move and stretch your shoulder back to normal. That type of situation is more indicative of an underlying condition that is causing your pain. Some of those ongoing symptoms to look for include:
- A dull, chronic ache in the shoulder and down the back
- Pain and tension at the top of the shoulder (sometimes accompanied by a headache)
- Cracking and grinding sound when rotating your shoulder
- Limited mobility or range of motion
- Pins-and-needles, tingling, and sometimes numbness down your arm and into your fingers (if this is accompanied by a racing heart, sweating or any other symptom that could be associated with a heart attack, call 911 immediately)
- Sharp, stabbing pain during certain movements
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms for more than a few days, it’s important to get to the root cause of your symptoms, so you can move forward with the right treatment option. To accurately diagnose the cause of your symptoms, you may be asked to undergo an MRI test. This will allow the physical therapist to pinpoint the root cause of your pain and symptoms, so you can both make a game plan for the best treatment options to treat your condition. Shoulder pain doesn’t have to slow down your life. The best thing you can do is be proactive about treatment so you can reduce your risk of surgery later on.
Causes of Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can be caused by a number of conditions, but the most common conditions include:
- Osteoarthritis — This occurs when the cartilage in your joint wears down after years of repetitive motion, which can lead to inflammation and pain in the joint.
- Pinched nerve — In some cases, a nerve gets pinched near the shoulder blade, which often triggers traveling pain (the pain may travel from the shoulder to the neck or down the arm).
- Rotator cuff injury — This can be caused by a sport or recreational activity or by a job that requires constant arm movements, such as a painter, carpenter, or someone who works in inventory lifting large boxes overhead.
- Tendinitis — Tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendons that attach your shoulder muscle to your bone. This can be caused by injury or repetitive movements in the shoulder joint.
To accurately diagnose the cause of your symptoms, you may be asked to undergo an MRI test. This will allow the physical therapist to pinpoint the root cause of your pain and symptoms, so you can both make a game plan for the best treatment options to treat your condition.
Treatments for Shoulder Pain
The types of treatments recommended for shoulder pain depend on the severity of your symptoms. If you are experiencing mild symptoms for just a few days that are uncomfortable, but not necessarily disrupting your lifestyle, then you may want to start with some of these at-home treatments to help reduce your shoulder pain:
- Stretching to relieve pressure on a pinched nerve and reduce any tension headaches
- Rest to help heal any tweaked tendon that perhaps was overstretched (not in the good way) previously
- Over-the-counter medications, like NSAIDs, to reduce swelling and inflammation in the shoulder joint
These treatments are great options for very mild, temporary shoulder pain, and they offer mild, temporary relief. But if you find that your pain is getting worse or that your symptoms continue for several days to a couple of weeks, you should seek professional treatment from a physical therapist. Common physical therapy treatments for shoulder pain include:
- Hands-on therapy — Manual therapy moves the damaged tissue in the shoulder to help improve mobility and reduce tension, nerve impingement, and other painful symptoms.
- Therapeutic stretching and exercises — Specific stretches and exercises can help the shoulder regain protective muscle and range of motion, which may help reduce symptoms of pain and tightness in the shoulder.
- Joint mobilization — This type of stretching is specific to the shoulder joint itself, not just the muscles and tendons surrounding it. This can help to improve overall shoulder health and range of motion within the joint, as well as reduce inflammation.
- Kinesiology taping — This type of taping can help improve circulation and support the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint to reduce further injury. This type of treatment is often used in conjunction with other physical therapy methods.
If you’re ready to seek treatment for your shoulder pain, contact us today to schedule an appointment. When it comes to physical therapy, you no longer need a referral from a doctor’s office. You have direct access to our team at Lattimore Physical Therapy. Contact us today or find a location near you.