No, shoulder pain isn’t just a part of getting older, having a grueling job, or working out regularly. Shoulder pain is a signal that something is wrong. While the issue may be concentrated in your shoulder, there’s a chance that a larger problem with your musculoskeletal system is to blame. If your only remedy so far has been to pop pain medication, it’s time to get serious about fixing shoulder pain.
Why Getting a Diagnosis for Shoulder Pain Is Difficult
Getting a proper, whole-picture diagnosis for shoulder pain can be difficult because many care providers shrug off shoulder pain as a minor injury that will heal on its own. On the opposite spectrum, you may get a care provider who is overzealous about signing you up for surgery that requires extensive post-operation healing and rehabilitation. This may have you wondering if you can heal shoulder pain on your own. The answer is that there are many non-invasive, gentle treatments for restoring shoulder function, reducing inflammation, and correcting the underlying causes of shoulder pain. First, it can be helpful to understand what causes shoulder pain.
Examining Why Shoulder Pain Happens: Why Does My Shoulder Hurt?
You may know exactly why your shoulder hurts if you’ve been injured in some type of accident or fall. However, knowing how your shoulder was injured doesn’t automatically solve the mystery because there are many different parts of the shoulder that can become impaired from strain or impact. This is why the effectiveness of various treatments can vary by patient. Here’s a breakdown of common reasons for shoulder pain:
- Injuries: When we’re talking about shoulder injuries, we’re referring to strains, sprains, tears and fractures that have occurred somewhere within the shoulder. However, injuries that occur in the tissues and structures surrounding the shoulder can also create pain and limited flexibility in the shoulder.
- Overuse: If you use your shoulder, arm or hands for repetitive motions, it’s possible that your shoulder pain is caused by overuse. We see this commonly in people who work in settings that require them to use their hands. Things like handling packages, painting, assembling parts, steering a vehicle, lifting heavy parts, playing an instrument, carrying food trays and typing at a computer for long periods of time can all bring on shoulder pain.
- Tension: Having any type of tension in your body caused by things like stress or other injuries can increase your chances of developing shoulder pain. People who are stressed or anxious often stay in a state of “muscle guarding” that increases the risk of injuring tense, inflexible muscles.
- Bursitis: Bursitis occurs when the fluid sacks that “cushion” our bones and tendons become damaged.
- Arthritis: Shoulder pain can sometimes be caused by swelling of the joints related to arthritis.
- Shoulder Impingement: This fairly common condition occurs when connective tissue rubs against the shoulder blade. It can be caused by wear and tear, poor posture or overuse. The most common sign of a shoulder impingement is restricted movement in the shoulder.
- Broken Collar Bone: Yes, an undiagnosed broken collar bone can be the cause of shoulder pain.
- Cervical Radiculopathy: Also known as a pinched nerve, this injury occurs when a nerve in the neck becomes compressed or irritated. In many cases, nerve signals radiate pain to the shoulders. Some telltale signs that a pinched nerve in the neck is behind your shoulder pain are numbness and tingling.
- Neck Issues: A pinched nerve in the neck isn’t the only neck issue that can cause shoulder pain. Any type of disc issue or misalignment of the vertebrae can cause radiating or referred pain that reaches the shoulder.
When getting to the root of shoulder pain, it’s important to look at the entire central nervous system to see how various nerve connections could be causing referred pain in the shoulder. If you’ve been told that nothing is wrong with your shoulder after having medical imaging done, the neck-shoulder pain connection could make sense for you. In many cases, misalignments or blockages in the spine and neck are actually responsible for “mystery” shoulder pain.
How Is Shoulder Pain Treated?
The good news is that patients have more options than ever before when it comes to treating shoulder pain without invasive procedures. In fact, many therapies and exercises are available today that allow people to feel relief almost immediately. In addition, these therapies help to maintain proper alignment and blood flow for long-term relief from shoulder pain. Take a look!
A cutting-edge, noninvasive treatment, laser therapy helps to rev up healing in shoulder tissue. Lasers work by placing a light source at the site of the injury. As the cells absorb the energy, cell production speeds up to accelerate tissue healing and regeneration. Laser therapy for shoulder pain is believed to:
- Increase blood flow in the damaged area.
- Promote faster healing.
- Boost cellular activity.
- Boost the body’s immune response.
Laser therapy can be especially effective when scar tissue has formed in a shoulder joint. Once scar tissue has formed, joints often lose flexibility and range of motion. It’s not uncommon for patients who receive laser therapy for shoulder pain to see reduced pain with an increased range of motion after the first session. However, it often takes several sessions for a full turnaround of shoulder symptoms. In studies, low-level laser therapy for shoulder pain has been found to be relevant for pain relief and healing both alone and in combination with physiotherapy interventions.
In many cases, classic manual chiropractic adjustments are used to restore alignment to the neck and spine to relieve the pressure that is causing neck pain. This can be an especially helpful treatment for patients who are also experiencing back pain, neck pain, or headaches in addition to shoulder pain. Many patients feel relief as soon as the adjustment is performed.
Addressing trigger points through something called trigger point therapy can also be helpful for correcting shoulder pain. Trigger points are compressed, knotted muscle fibers that cause pain and tenderness. In addition to creating pain at the site of the knot, trigger points are known to cause referred pain. That means that a patient with a trigger point in the neck or arm may experience referred shoulder pain. Identifying trigger points can be essential for quickly alleviating shoulder pain. What’s more, this method can be used on essentially any muscle in the body. Trigger point therapy involves stretching and releasing knotted muscles to relieve the tightness and inflammation responsible for pain. Targeted massage can be especially helpful for releasing pressure at trigger points.
Stretching Exercises and Posture
As part of the whole-body approach to healing shoulder pain, chiropractors often instruct clients on how to use a variety of stretches to reduce tightness and inflammation of the shoulder. While these stretches are sometimes enough to provide relief, they are more commonly used in conjunction with other therapies. Some common stretches used to help treat and prevent shoulder pain include neck releases, across-the-chest stretches, chest expansions, and seated twists. According to studies, regular stretching exercises can decrease neck and shoulder pain, improve neck function and boost quality of life among people with chronic moderate-to-severe neck or shoulder pain.
Your chiropractor will also discuss how your lifestyle habits are impacting your shoulders. After an evaluation of your shoulders, back, torso and legs, it’s possible that your chiropractor will notice that your posture may be contributing to shoulder pain. Learning about how to maintain proper posture will help to prevent long-term shoulder damage that can lead to joint and muscle degeneration.