Summer means more time outside and in the water engaging in sports. Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not you are more likely to ask more of your shoulders in the summer time. Your shoulder joint can take it – if your body is prepared. Shoulder pain is the third most common cause of musculoskeletal disorders right behind backpain and neck pain. Think surfing, body surfing, swimming, baseball, or playing catch.
These activities apply stress to the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues. So this time of year one of the more common injuries may annoy you with nagging, aching pain in the front of the shoulder. It usually hurts more with movement and when it progresses, it’s hard to sleep comfortably due shoulder pain when lying on your side.
These symptoms are most typically caused by inflammation in the rotator cuff of the shoulder. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic surgeons, between 1998 and 2004, over 5 million physician visits were attributed to rotator cuff problems. Inflammation in the rotator cuff could be due to tendonitis… could be a tear in muscles or tendons… or simply a strained muscle.The rotator cuff – you guessed it – rotates your arm. It also helps hold your arm snuggly in the shoulder joint. It’s actually made up of 4 different muscles but I’ll spare you the details on that. As you might have noticed muscles get injured and out of balance easily. So if 4 muscles are supposed to hold your arm in to the perfect spot on your shoulder but those 4 muscles are irritated and inflamed, it’s likely you are going to have some pain and weakness when you try to move your arm, right? Very likely.
Like most injuries when rotator cuff problems are ignored they get worse and can lead to irreversable damage of the tissues that make up the shoulder joint.
Not all shoulder pain is due to rotator cuff inflammation. Other shoulder injuries and conditions are important to rule out with a well informed healthcare practitioner. They include:
- Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder syndrome)
- Significant rotator cuff tear requiring surgery
- Torn ligaments
- Shoulder separation (AC joint)
- Age related joint degeneration
- Shoulder joint dislocation
The good news is that if you heed your pain, give your sport a rest and seek help ASAP. Rotator cuff pain is usually an easy mend. You’ll need accurate diagnosis, effective manual therapy and prescribed self-care. In addition when you’re healed learn how to prepare for your sport so you avoid reinjuring your shoulder. Therapeutic exercises and other self-care will help you avoid more pain, allow you to enjoy your sport and keep your health costs down.