Physical Therapy for Shoulder Injuries
About the Shoulder
One of the body’s most complex areas is the shoulder, and each shoulder is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (the humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). These bones fit into the joint areas of the shoulder and are supported by tendons and muscles, enabling us to do things like comb our hair, reach for a coffee cup, catch a ball, swing a golf club or tennis racket, and many other ‘reaching’ activities.
In spite of the shoulder’s complex design, the daily wear and tear of frequent use in reaching and other movements makes the shoulder area vulnerable to injury or a direct injury – like what may occur in a car accident – can be extremely uncomfortable. The onset of shoulder pain can be gradual or sudden, and shoulder pain ranges from mild to excruciating. An injury to the shoulder can interrupt a person’s sleep, and the ability to perform activities of daily living can also be impacted.
Causes of Shoulder Pain
Although shoulder problems are common, the cause of shoulder pain cannot always be determined. Mild shoulder pain can sometimes improve on its own by adjusting your activities, performing mild stretches, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to see if the pain resolves on its own, although most instances of shoulder pain are resolved with physical therapy.
Some health problems originating elsewhere in the body can lead to pain that radiates to the shoulder, such as in arthritis, disc herniations, and specific neck problems. Shoulder pain often occurs as we age due to a variety of common conditions, such as arthritis, and particularly due to a lifetime of daily wear and tear on the shoulders.
Less common causes of shoulder pain are infection, nerve-related problems, and tumors. Case reports have been published in 2020 in regard to shoulder pain and dysfunction following administration of inactivated influenza vaccine. If you are experiencing a great deal of pain or know that you are injured, see a doctor right away to have your health problem diagnosed.
The following causes of shoulder pain are most common:
- Inflammation of a tendon (bursitis or tendonitis)
- Tear of a tendon (partial or full tear)
- Or pain associated with an accident, like a slip and fall, car accident, or sports injury.
Common Types of Shoulder Injuries
The rotator cuff is comprised of muscles and tendons that connect the shoulder to the socket, which allows the person to move the shoulder in a circular motion. Rotator cuff problems fall into two categories: inflammation or tears. Studies show that nearly two million people see a doctor in a given year for rotator cuff-related problems. When a person experiences pain or stiffness in the shoulder while lifting the arm above their head, a rotator cuff problem is often suspected.
Rotator cuff impingement occurs when there is inflammation, compression, or irritation of the tendons or bursa in the shoulder. General wear and tear as we age can lead to impingement of the rotator cuff, as well as injury to the area at any age.
Rotator cuff tears are often accompanied by weakness in the area. When shoulder pain exists without any weakness in the area, the problem is more likely due to impingement of the rotator cuff rather than a tear. A tear in the rotator cuff is more likely to be caused by an injury.
Common accidents that often result in rotator cuff tears include slipping and falling, tripping, getting pulled by a dog on a leash, or a work accident – all of which can result in landing on one’s shoulder. Rotator cuff tears may also occur during the impact of a motor vehicle accident.
Fractures to the shoulder bones among older patients often result from a fall from standing height, whereas in younger patients, shoulder fractures are more likely to result from a high energy injury such as a motor vehicle collision or an injury sustained in contact sports. When any of the shoulder bones have been fractured (broken), patients will likely experience:
- Swelling and tenderness
- Shoulder pain with any movement
- Discoloration at the fracture site
Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain
In most cases of shoulder pain, physical therapy is enough to remedy the health problem. Physical therapy approaches may include:
- Heat and ice treatments (modalities) to help relax the muscles
- Manual (hands-on) therapy techniques for maintaining mobility of the shoulder
- Stretching techniques to increase flexibility and range of motion
- Strengthening exercises
- Joint stabilization and mobilization to increase shoulder mobility
- Electrical stimulation
- Therapeutic ultrasound
- Activity modification to minimize stress on the shoulder area
- Athletic taping (or strapping) to provide structural support
- Workplace ergonomics for proper arm support
- Individualized home exercise program to preserve your quality of life
- And so much more
Our highly educated and trained staff at Physical Therapy Now is waiting to assist you toward optimal health. Call us today at (800) 481-4582 to schedule an appointment at your convenience.