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Shoulder Discomfort

Shoulder Discomfort

Shoulder discomfort can be caused due to a wide range of reasons. Scroll down to find out what causes discomfort in the shoulder and how it can be treated.
Smita Pandit
Glenohumeral joint, sternoclavicular joint and the acromioclavicular joint are the three joints that make up the shoulder complex. Humerus (arm bone), clavicle (collarbone) and scapula (shoulder blade) are the main bones, while the rotator cuff refers to a group of muscles and related tendons that connect to the shoulder joint. Besides these bones and the ligaments and tendons attached to them, there are fluid-stuffed sacs located within the joints. These are called bursae. These sacs play an important role too. These help in reducing the friction between the joints and thus, facilitate smooth movement. It is the collective working of all these structures that helps us flex, rotate or extend our arms.

As is the case with any part of the body, shoulder joint can also get affected due to repetitive strain or overuse of muscles. Under these circumstances, one is most likely to experience discomfort. In fact, pain that arises from the shoulder joint complex, could even radiate towards the arms, and this may affect our ability to perform routine activities. Given below are some of the conditions that may cause shoulder pain and discomfort.

Shoulder Pain and Discomfort

The shoulder joint is one of the joints with the greatest range of motion. It allows us to extend, flex or rotate our arms. The range of motion, however, may get adversely affected due to trauma or strain. Here's some information on the medical conditions that may cause pain in or around the shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder: Medically referred to as adhesive capsulitis, a frozen shoulder is characterized by stiffness, pain and reduced mobility of the shoulder joint. This condition mainly affects middle-aged or elderly people. It occurs due to the inflammation of the connective tissue that surrounds glenohumeral joint. Diabetics or people who have recently undergone a shoulder surgery may be susceptible to frozen shoulder syndrome. A rotator cuff injury may also put one at an increased risk of developing this condition.

Shoulder Impingement: As mentioned earlier, the shoulder joint complex comprises many structures. The acromion, which is a part of the shoulder blade meets up the collarbone to make the acromioclavicular joint at the top of shoulder. Between the rotator cuff and this flat bone called acromion, lies a fluid-filled sac that acts as a gliding surface. If the space between the acromion and the rotator cuff becomes narrow, the acromion may start irritating the bursa as well as the tendons. This may cause discomfort and pain. Under such circumstances, one is most likely to experience severe discomfort while raising his/her arm upwards.

Dislocated Shoulder: The shoulder joint is a movable joint with a wide range of motion allowing us to move our arms in various directions. The range of motion of the shoulder joint, however, may get adversely affected due to a dislocated shoulder. At times, motor vehicle accidents and traumatic injuries can cause the head of the humerus or the arm bone to get dislocated from the socket of the scapula. Injuries that cause any of the bones in the shoulder complex to crack or get fractured, or cause the ligaments or tendons to rupture, would also naturally cause shoulder pain and discomfort. Lifting heavy weights overhead may also make one susceptible to a pulled shoulder muscle or a dislocated shoulder.

Joint Disorders: In case of elderly people, shoulder discomfort may be a direct result of degeneration of cartilage. Cartilage is a connective tissue that covers the ends of the bones in a joint. This allows the bones to glide smoothly, without any friction. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease wherein the cartilage gets worn out. This leads to painful movement and reduces the mobility of the joint. Shoulder pain and discomfort may arise if the acromioclavicular joint gets affected by osteoarthritis. Those who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, may also experience such distressing symptoms. Bone density may also get affected due to a condition called osteoporosis. This makes the bones susceptible to damage, in case of mild injuries as well.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical examination alone may not suffice when it comes to formulating a diagnosis. Doctors may look at the X-ray, and conduct other imaging procedures so as to ascertain the condition of the shoulder joint. If one is diagnosed with a joint condition, drug therapy coupled with certain self-care measures would help in minimizing discomfort. Analgesics or non steroidal inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed so as to provide pain relief. If the pain is severe, corticosteroids may be prescribed. Massage therapy could also help in providing relief from pain. If the patient has suffered from a pulled muscle, use of painkillers and application of heat pads may prove beneficial. Wearing a compression wrap may also help in providing support to the injured joint. If, however, tests reveal a badly fractured bone, treatment may even involve surgery. Once the joint has healed considerably, one would have to go for physiotherapy sessions. Performing certain exercises may help in recovering the range of motion of the shoulder joint.

Though the shoulder joint facilitates a wide range of movements, there is a need to refrain from activities that may strain the muscles. Stress beyond a certain limit is bound to cause pain and discomfort, so, make sure that you refrain from any activity that may cause damage to the structures in the shoulder complex. If you do experience pain or discomfort, consult a doctor immediately.