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8 Shoulder Injuries that Can Benefit from Physical Therapy

Do you wince when you reach overhead, slip on a T-shirt, or roll over on your shoulder at night? If so, you probably know firsthand how debilitating and frustrating a shoulder pain condition can be.

Whether you injured your shoulder in a recent accident, strained your shoulder by over-training, or simply are dealing with age-related shoulder joint dysfunction, you may find yourself struggling with day-to-day functions which you might have once taken for granted.

The good news is that physical therapy can help rehabilitate your shoulder injury back to functional health, while hopefully avoiding invasive treatments or relying on pain medication to manage symptoms.

Who experiences shoulder pain? 

Shoulder pain is not limited to any particular age. In fact, age groups tend to have similar experiences for acquiring a shoulder injury.

Younger children/adults may be at higher risk of injury from experiences such as playing sports or overexertion in extracurricular activities. An adult may be prone to experiencing more age-related shoulder pains such as arthritis.

Your shoulders are a complex part of your body – they are your most flexible and movable joints, consisting of multiple bones, muscles, and tendons. They provide you with a great amount of mobility, allowing you to perform many of your daily tasks, in addition to several exercise regimens.

However, this also means that there are many ways that the shoulders can become injured, resulting in pain and lack of mobility. Damage or dysfunction of any of these structures can lead to chronic long–term shoulder pain condition.

According to data shared by the National Institute of Health, the estimated prevalence of shoulder pain ranges from 4% to 26%. Assuming this data is accurate, this means upwards of 1 out of 4 people are struggling with shoulder pain at any given time.

Why do I have shoulder pain?

The shoulder is one of the most complicated parts of the body. The humerus (upper arm bone’s head) fits perfectly in the scapula’s (shoulder blade’s) corresponding space, making it a “ball-and-socket joint.”

The ends of the bones are cushioned by a thick covering of cartilage, which prevents them from rubbing together. Fluid-filled sacs called bursae also assist the tendons avoid friction with one another.

The tendons connect a set of muscles known as the rotator cuff to the bones in the shoulder. The rotator cuff is responsible for rotating and controlling motion in the shoulder.

The shoulder is capable of a wide range of physical tasks due to its many complexities, but it is also prone to an increased risk of pain and discomfort.

There is a lot that goes on in the physical make-up of the shoulder, and if something goes wrong with its mechanical interplay, pain can result. Shoulder pain may range from a dull ache to shooting pain, depending on how the pain developed.

Pain from tendon impingement generally occurs as you raise your arm up but stops before the arm is fully extended. Pain from a deteriorating shoulder may produce sharp pains when you move your arm in particular directions.

Acute injuries might cause sudden and severe discomfort that prevents you from moving your shoulder at all.

Why am I experiencing shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain can be caused by many different things; both acute and chronic shoulder pain can feel dull, achy, sharp, or throbbing.

It may be associated with weakness, tenderness, swelling, bruising, and instability at the shoulder joint and make it difficult for a person to lift their arm or even do day-to-day tasks.

Sometimes, numbness, tingling, and weakness can also develop in the arm, hand, or fingers.

Our physical therapist team commonly diagnoses the following shoulder pain conditions:
  1. Adhesive Capsulitis is also known as frozen shoulder: progressive and marked range of motion loss in the shoulder generally following some sort of injury, illness, or infection affecting the shoulder area. Frozen shoulder can take between six months and two years to heal properly.
  2. Arthritis: Wearing down of the joint cartilage causing painful bone-on-bone rubbing and inflammation.
  3. Bursitis: Inflammation and swelling of the bursae.
  4. Dislocation: The humeral head inside the main “socket” of the shoulder joint (called the glenoid fossa) can become partially or fully dislocated (dislodged out of place, usually due to significant trauma). Even if it “pops” back into place, your shoulder will likely be more unstable and at risk for re-injury unless treated.
  5. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis and Shoulder Impingement: Friction or pressure on tendons (e.g., if they rub against bones) can inflame the tendons and cause swelling, pain, and decreased mobility. Acute or chronic trauma can also lead to small tears in the rotator cuff muscle fibers.
  6. SLAP tear: this is a tear in the superior part of the labrum in an anterior to posterior direction and can be caused by acute or repetitive trauma.
  7. Torn cartilage: When a cartilage tears, you may experience a number of painful symptoms. You may experience decreased strength and a limited range of motion in the affected shoulder. You may also experience pain when moving your arm in certain ways. If you are suffering from torn cartilage, physical therapy can provide relief.
  8. Strains and sprains: A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched too far or torn. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched too far or torn. Strains and sprains can result in ongoing shoulder pain that may make it difficult to partake in exercise or even daily tasks. If the strain or sprain is minor, it can sometimes be iced at home and healed with rest. More severe strains and sprains will often require physical therapy treatments.

What’s the difference between Acute and Chronic Shoulder Pain:

Acute shoulder pain is a common condition that usually develops after some traumatic event in sports, occupations, personal injuries, or auto accidents.

Shoulder pain is considered chronic when the pain has been present for more than six months. Chronic shoulder pain typically lasts longer and may come on more gradually and can be due to repetitive movement or overuse. While anyone is at risk for chronic shoulder pain, it’s more commonly found in people ranging from 30-50 years old.

Many of the above issues can be labeled as either acute or chronic pain such as; arthritis, rotator cuff tears/tendonitis, and even adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder).

Both acute and chronic shoulder pain should be treated with physical therapy exercises in order to rehabilitate the shoulder back to health.

Our physical therapists are well trained in treating these complex chronic shoulder pain cases and providing you with a solid treatment plan to assist you in pain relief and overall rehabilitation.

If a shoulder problem becomes too much, your doctor might recommend shoulder surgery in order to repair or replace different parts of the shoulder joint, but the goal of physical therapy is often to prevent an invasive procedure.

What to expect with Physical Therapy treatments:

The right course of physical therapy can help you manage shoulder pain without surgery. By meeting with a physical therapist for your condition, you will be able to learn the underlying diagnosis and contributing factors of your condition.

Your physical therapist will work closely with you to relieve pain, strengthen joints and muscles, and teach you how to avoid recurring problems in the future.

It’s important to follow your physical therapist’s treatment plan, including attending all therapy sessions in order to rehabilitate shoulder muscles properly.

Your physical therapist will start out by getting a detailed medical history. They will also consider factors such as age, fitness level, and the current range of motion.

This combined with a thorough physical exam of the shoulder and surrounding areas will help your physical therapist devise a treatment plan and home exercise program that is unique to your impairments and goals.

Our customizable and comprehensive services for shoulder pain generally include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Therapeutic exercises: which help heal tissues, improve mobility, and increase joint strength and stability
  • Modalities like low-level laser therapy and electrical stimulation to reduce swelling and accelerate healing
  • Joint mobilizations to improve shoulder alignment
  • Postural training
  • Stretching
  • Learning modifications for daily activities
  • Kinesio taping; also known as athletic taping:
  • Athletic taping is used to help stabilize muscle and bone during physical activity.
  • Manual Therapy: Kneading and manipulation of (shoulder) muscles and joints
  • Heat and ice treatments

How will I benefit from physical therapy?

A physical therapist works hard to provide improvement to your flexibility and range of motion, in addition to relieving the pain and discomfort you are feeling.

They may implement any combination of treatment methods, such as cold and hot therapies to ease pain and increase mobility; massage therapy to relieve pressure on your muscles, joints, and tendons; or an exercise regimen to promote movement and healing of the affected area.

Other treatment methods may include aquatic therapy, ultrasound, or electrical nerve stimulation.

Shoulder pain can be experienced due to a multitude of different causes, and there are several steps you can take to ease your discomfort. Physical therapy can be a great way to not only rehabilitate the shoulder joint back to health but also to avoid more invasive treatment such as shoulder surgery.

Physical therapy is a natural, easy, and effective way to ease shoulder pain. To find out how physical therapy can benefit you or if your doctor recommends physical therapy, please contact our front office today!