Every year, approximately 14 million people seek medical attention for shoulder-related problems. This includes more than 3 million visits for shoulder and upper arm sprains and strains.

The shoulder is capable of a wider and more varied range of motion than any other joint in the human body. To remain stable, the shoulder must be anchored by its muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

  • The shoulder is composed of three bones and three major joints. It’s also an intricate system of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bursa sacs.
  • Four muscles form the rotator cuff that encircles the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff provides the ability to lift the arm and reach overhead.

Shoulder pain is an extremely common complaint with many causes.

  • Excessive overhead arm motion during everyday activities can cause injury.
  • Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon and is the most common of all shoulder problems. Age has a profound impact on how the body responds to shoulder strain or trauma. In the 30s and 40s, the muscles and tendons begin to undergo a structural weakening. By age 40 or 45, simple tendonitis can degenerate into actual tearing of the muscle tissue.
  • Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa sacs which can lead to restricted movement.
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries such as tears can result from the progressive worsening of tendonitis, and by repetitive strain through overuse or trauma.
  • Frozen Shoulder is frequently caused by injury that leads to lack of use due to pain. Arthritis can lead to frozen shoulder, causing the inability to fully move the arm.
  • Arthritis is a degenerative disease caused by either wear and tear of the cartilage (osteoarthritis) or an inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis) of one or more joints.
  • Dislocation involves tissue damage, stretching, and tearing. The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated major joint. People under 20 and over 50 are most prone.
  • Separation occurs where the collarbone meets the shoulder blade. Most often, the injury is caused by a blow to the shoulder or by falling on an outstretched hand.

Stretching and strengthening is the key to preventing shoulder problems. Also, early detection is important in preventing serious shoulder injuries.

  • A study estimated the prevalence of work-related repetitive strain injury (RSI) and found that being physically active during leisure time is associated with a decreased risk of this type of injury.
  • A new study found that resistance training with free weights can help workers with severe rotator cuff injuries return to their jobs.

Treat injuries with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation).

  • Rest – Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours.
  • Ice – Put an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times per day.
  • Compression – Compress the area with bandages, such as an elastic wrap to help stabilize the shoulder. Also, it may help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation – Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart.

If you’re still unsure of the cause of your shoulder pain, or if you don’t know the specific treatment recommendations for your condition, you should call your doctor right away.

Sources: National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Health Day, American College of Rheumatology, American Physical Therapy Association, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.