Shoulder pain is characterized by pain and discomfort occurring within the area of the shoulder joint. This area includes the clavicle (i.e., collarbone), scapula (i.e., shoulder blade), and upper arm bone (i.e., humerus). The shoulder joint itself is a ball and socket joint that is one of the more mobile joints within the body. It joins the scapula with the head of the humerus. Interestingly, there is very little interface between these two bones at the articulation, which likely accounts for its high degree of mobility. The shoulder joint is also comprised of four groups of muscles and tendons whose function is to stabilize the joint.
Pain and discomfort in the shoulder area can be the result of inflammation, injury, or other changes in the structures that make up the shoulder joint.
Shoulder Pain Causes
There is a wide range of causes that underlie an episode of shoulder pain. In most instances, the symptoms of pain and discomfort are an indication of a possible hidden injury, inflammation, or other damage to the muscles, connective tissue, or musculoskeletal tissue. One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is rotator cuff tendinitis. This condition occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become irritated or inflamed, generally as the result of overuse, strain, or repetitive overhead movements (e.g., washing windows or throwing).
Fractured bones or a dislocated joint can also result in redness, swelling, and high degrees of pain in the shoulder area. These typically occur as the result of a fall, sports injury, or even injury sustained during a motor vehicle accident.
Another highly common source of shoulder pain is arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis typically develops in the shoulder and slowly progresses as a person ages. This deterioration is believed to be the result of typical wear and tear from daily use; however, a portion of patients suffer from osteoarthritis as the result of infection and inflammation.
Shoulder Pain Treatments
As with many other pain conditions, treatment recommendations for shoulder pain will likely be determined following your diagnosis. Your physician will speak with you about your current episode of pain, including severity, description, and course. Further, your physician will conduct a physical examination, as well as review all available medical documents. Imaging tests (e.g., X-rays, MRI, ultrasound, or CT scan) are typically used to assist with determining the degree of severity of the condition. Once the appropriate diagnosis has been assured, then treatment planning can begin.
Additionally, physical therapy can be helpful in providing the patient with relief from pain. In this treatment technique, the individual is taught several highly specified stretches and exercises in order to strengthen and loosen the tight connective tissue and muscle underlying the shoulder.