Shoulder Pain Overview
The cause of shoulder pain can usually be diagnosed with a detailed description of one’s symptoms, a medical history, as well as an evaluation and examination, (and possibly diagnostic testing), will lead to a diagnosis of a general cause (such as sprain or strain), or a specific condition (such as a rotator cuff tear). Possible diagnoses for shoulder pain could include but are not limited to: Bursitis, dislocation, frozen shoulder, impingement, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rotator cuff injury, sprains/ strains, tendinitis, tendon rupture, thoracic outlet syndrome, torn cartilage, or a brachial plexus injury.
Shoulder Pain Symptoms
Shoulder pain may arise from the shoulder joint itself or from any of the many surrounding muscles, ligaments or tendons. Shoulder pain that comes from the joint usually worsens with activities or movement of your arm or shoulder.
Various diseases and conditions affecting structures in your chest or abdomen, such as heart disease or gallbladder disease, also can cause shoulder pain. Shoulder pain that arises from another structure is called referred pain. Referred shoulder pain usually doesn’t worsen when you move your shoulder.
Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that are located in joints throughout the body, including the shoulder. They act as cushions between bones and the overlying soft tissues, and help reduce friction between the gliding muscles and the bone.
Sometimes, excessive use of the shoulder leads to inflammation and swelling of the bursa between the rotator cuff and part of the shoulder blade known as the acromion. The result is a condition known as subacromial bursitis. Bursitis often occurs in association with rotator cuff tendinitis. The many tissues in the shoulder can become inflamed and cause shoulder pain. Many daily activities, such as combing your hair or getting dressed, may become difficult.
A tendon is a cord that connects muscle to bone. Most tendinitis is a result of a wearing down of the tendon that occurs slowly over time, much like the wearing process on the sole of a shoe that eventually splits from overuse.
Generally, tendinitis is one of two types, both of which can cause shoulder pain:
- Excessive ball throwing or other overhead activities during work or sport can lead to acute tendinitis.
- Degenerative diseases like arthritis or repetitive wear and tear due to age, can lead to chronic tendinitis.
The most commonly affected tendons in the shoulder are the four rotator cuff tendons and one of the biceps tendons. The rotator cuff is made up of four small muscles and their tendons that cover the head of your upper arm bone and keep it in the shoulder socket. Your rotator cuff helps provide shoulder motion and stability.
Shoulder pain can be due to splitting and tearing of tendons, which may result from acute injury or degenerative changes in the tendons due to advancing age, long-term overuse and wear and tear, or a sudden injury. These tears may be partial or may completely split the tendon into two pieces. In most cases of complete tears, the tendon is pulled away from its attachment to the bone. Rotator cuff and biceps tendon injuries are among the most common of these injuries.
Shoulder impingement occurs when the top of the shoulder blade (acromion) puts pressure on the underlying soft tissues when the arm is lifted away from the body. As the arm is lifted, the acromion rubs, or “impinges” on, the rotator cuff tendons and bursa. This can lead to bursitis and tendinitis, causing shoulder pain and limiting movement. Over time, severe impingement can even lead to a rotator cuff tear.
Shoulder instability occurs when the head of the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket. This can happen as a result of a sudden injury or from overuse.
Shoulder dislocations can be partial, with the ball of the upper arm coming just partially out of the socket. This is called a subluxation. A complete dislocation means the ball comes all the way out of the socket.
Once the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the shoulder become loose or torn, dislocations can occur repeatedly. Recurring dislocations, which may be partial or complete, cause pain and unsteadiness when you raise your arm or move it away from your body. Repeated episodes of subluxations or dislocations lead to an increased risk of developing arthritis in the joint.
Shoulder pain can also result from arthritis. There are many types of arthritis. The most common type of arthritis in the shoulder is osteoarthritis, also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Symptoms, such as swelling, pain, and stiffness, typically begin during middle age. Osteoarthritis develops slowly and the pain it causes worsens over time.
Osteoarthritis, may be related to sports or work injuries and chronic wear and tear. Other types of arthritis can be related to rotator cuff tears, infection, or an inflammation of the joint lining.
Often people will avoid shoulder movements in an attempt to lessen arthritis pain. This sometimes leads to a tightening or stiffening of the soft tissue parts of the joint, resulting in a painful restriction of motion.
Fractures are broken bones. Shoulder fractures commonly involve the clavicle (collarbone), humerus (upper arm bone), and scapula (shoulder blade).
Shoulder fractures in older patients are often the result of a fall from standing height. In younger patients, shoulder fractures are often caused by a high energy injury, such as a motor vehicle accident or contact sports injury. Fractures often cause severe shoulder pain, swelling, and bruising.
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