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Shoulder icon for back doctor, John G. Atwater, MD, in Vero Beach

The shoulder is one of the largest joints in the body. Problems to it can cause pain and limit your normal activities, whether that’s lifting your kids, carrying supplies, or playing sports. The most common shoulder pain injury is in the rotator cuff.

Annually, more than 7.5 million people visit the doctor’s office because of shoulder pain, and more than 4 million are rotator cuff injuries.

At OSA, we recognize that shoulder conditions can get in the way of the activities you love. And we want to help. Our experienced doctors and staff work with patients to develop treatment plans that suit their needs and lifestyle. We focus on giving you control over your path to recovery.

The Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder is one of the largest joints of the body, and it is the most mobile. The shoulder needs to be able to rotate for arm movements, as well as be stable enough for actions like pushing and pulling. Because of this balance between flexibility and stability, the shoulder is especially prone to damage.

The shoulder:

  • The shoulder is made up of three bones: the collarbone (clavicle), arm bone (humerus), and shoulder blade (scapula). These bones come together to create a ball and socket.
  • The shoulder is typically referred to as a single joint. However, it is made up of two joints, the glenohumeral and acromioclavicular joints, that work together to help the arm move.
  • Muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage also make up the shoulder. These help your shoulder move smoothly.
  • The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder, assists in rotation, and tightens the joint; the rotator cuff consists of the supraspinatus muscle, infraspinatus muscle, teres minor muscle, and subscapularis muscle.

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Causes of Shoulder Pain

Most shoulder pain is caused by one of four general problems: tendon inflammation or tear, joint instability, arthritis, or a broken bone. However, the following may have contributed to your shoulder condition:

  • Sports or work injuries
  • Overuse
  • Falls and accidents
  • Old age
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Genetics

How Shoulder Pain Conditions are Diagnosed

Your doctor will ask you various questions about your history, lifestyle, and how your symptoms affect your daily life. Your doctor will also ask about the severity of your shoulder pain and will check for swelling, deformity, or discoloration. Finally, your doctor will ask to see you move your shoulder in different positions. These questions and observations can help diagnose your condition, but they also help doctors determine what treatments would be most suitable for your unique experience.

Here are some ways you can help your shoulder doctor:

  • Bring all medical records, scans, and recent laboratory results to your appointment. This is important!
  • Tell your doctor the type of pain you are having (dull or sharp) and how often.
  • Tell your doctor if you’ve noticed any changes to the skin on or around your shoulder.

Many doctors will want to see what’s going on inside your body. They may order one or more of the following:

  • X-rays
  • MRIs
  • CT Scans
  • Blood tests
  • Nerve studies
  • Arthroscopy

Surgical and Non-Surgical Treatments

For many patients, surgery is the last resort. In fact, many patients find that over time their pain gets better by itself or with some simple treatments. Other times, however, the pain will persist despite non-surgical and surgical treatments.

Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Rest
  • Changes in activity
  • Medication to reduce pain and inflammation

Ninety percent of patients with shoulder injuries won’t need surgery. However, it can still be necessary. Common surgeries include:

  1. Rotator cuff repair: In this surgery, the surgeon will identify the damage to the rotator cuff and repair the tendon without over-stretching it. Different surgeons will have different techniques to do this. Ask your surgeon how he or she will perform the surgery.
  2. Shoulder replacement surgery: This surgery is typically done for patients with advanced arthritis or complex fractures. The surgeon replaces the shoulder ball and socket with a metal ball and a plastic socket.
  3. Arthroscopic debridement: This surgery is for patients who have had long-term shoulder pain and no relief from rest or physical therapy. The surgeon removes any inflamed tissue, scar tissue, or bone spurs.

Talk to your doctor if you would like to try any of these treatments for your shoulder pain. He or she can help you develop a safe, long-term plan for better health.