How to spot and avoid common shoulder injuries
Stay active all year round with these tips
If you experience consistent pain in your shoulder it can be hard to swim, throw a perfect pitch or swing a tennis racket.
“In order to accommodate all of the different movements and flexibility necessary for daily tasks, our shoulders contain a complex network of joints and muscles,” says Dr. Hithem Rahmi, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder and elbow surgery at Geisinger Orthopaedics in Lewistown and Port Matilda.
Shoulders are made up of three bones—your upper arm (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle)—which meet in your shoulder socket and function with help from muscles connected to the bone by cord-like tendons. The whole system is protected by a tissue capsule that cushions the components.
“Many shoulder conditions come from overuse and repetitive motions that impact the joint’s movement,” says Dr. Rahmi.
Here are the symptoms of the most common shoulder injuries, treatment options and tips on how to avoid them.
Tendonitis, a very common condition marked by stiffness and pain near a joint, often presents itself in the shoulder, knees and elbows. Tendonitis is a result of inflammation from prolonged stress on the tendons, whether it be from a repetitive activity, bone and muscle deterioration or a larger health issue.
A short-term strain is called acute tendonitis and can also cause tenderness and swelling. Acute tendonitis is usually treated with an over-the-counter pain reliever, ice and rest in an elevated position. In extreme cases or in the event of a rupture, surgery may be necessary.
Long-term symptoms and issues that don’t clear up with at-home treatment are indications of chronic tendonitis, which can be associated with rotator cuff tears. Taking it easy, stretching and practicing good habits can prevent flare-ups and restore shoulder mobility. If pain persists, you should make an appointment with your doctor to have your shoulder checked out.
“As we age, our tendons become more brittle and prone to inflammation,” says Dr. Rahmi. “It’s important to prepare your body for exertion with stretching and strength training as a first form of defense.”
Using good posture, varied movements and proper ergonomics are also important to long-term tendon health.
Have you ever noticed a sharp pain when lifting your arms? Shoulder impingements happen when the space between acromion—a piece of bone connected to the shoulder—and the rotator cuff narrow as arms are raised, causing the bone to rub and irritate the tendon. This can result in severe pain and trouble moving the shoulder.
“Impingements are common,” says Dr. Rahmi. “Especially those who play overhead sports like swimming, tennis, softball or baseball. In all three, the arms are exerting force while over the head.”
Symptoms are usually mild to start and can be managed at home with rest, anti-inflammatory medicines and physical therapy. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections or even surgery to create more space for the rotator cuff.
The best way to prevent an impingement is to keep inflammation at bay by drinking plenty of water, stretching before activity and taking adequate time between exercise sets to let the muscle relax.
Frozen shoulder is a multi-stage joint condition that can take several years to develop and treat, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the weather! With frozen shoulder, an unusually tight tissue capsule around the shoulder socket, as well as fluid loss, causes pain and severe stiffness when trying to move.
“In the first stage of the condition, patients begin to notice intense pain which may cause them to stop using the shoulder,” notes Dr. Rahmi. “This can go on as long as six months, and invariably becomes a vicious cycle, as treatment involves moving the joint.”
The second stage of frozen shoulder involves the full ‘freezing’ of the joint due to the constricting tissue capsule, making it impossible to move by yourself or even with assistance from your doctor. In this stage, patients are not able to perform daily activities and require immediate treatment. This can last an additional six months before the third stage, thawing, takes place.
The thawing period of frozen shoulder is marked by a loosening of the capsule, often thanks to physical therapy, cortisone or steroid injections and regular stretching. Though patients are on the right track, full healing can take as much as two years.
There are no universally agreed causes for frozen shoulder, but risk factors like diabetes, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and cervical spine disease are known to be risk factors. The best way to avoid frozen shoulder is through regular movement and exercise.
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