Stop shouldering the pain

Stop shouldering the pain

The human shoulder is an amazing yet delicate mechanism. It’s made up of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the humerus (upper arm bone) along with the associated muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It’s mobile enough for wide ranging arm and hand motions, but still stable enough for things like lifting, pushing, and pulling.

All those individual bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons work together to create the shoulder joint and provide the full range of motion so many of us take for granted. If you’ve ever had shoulder pain or a shoulder injury, though, you are likely very aware of how delicate the balance can be.

How does your shoulder work?

The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, where the ball at the top of your upper arm bone fits into the socket made where your shoulder blade and collarbone meet. This configuration lets your arm rotate in a circle or hinge out and up away from the body. The joint capsule refers to the soft tissue envelope that surrounds the shoulder joint and attaches to the shoulder blade, upper arm, and the head of the bicep muscles. The whole thing is lined by a thin, smooth synovial membrane that lets it move smoothly and comfortably.

The group of four muscles that surround and stabilize the shoulder joint is frequently referred to as the rotator cuff. The cuff adheres to the joint capsule and attaches to the humeral head.

With so many moving parts coming together in one place, it’s not hard to imagine how easy it might be to hurt the joint and limit your range of motion.

How shoulders get hurt – and fixed

We ask a lot of our shoulders, and when one or both of them are injured or in pain, the impact can be enormous. If you’re experiencing acute or chronic shoulder pain, consider your answers to these questions:

● Is your shoulder too stiff or painful to move your arm normally?
● Does your shoulder feel as if it could pop out of the socket?
● Is your shoulder strong enough for things you normally do?

Of course, some shoulder injuries can be treated at home with rest and ice, but many other injuries require professional help. Here are a few signs that you should see a doctor right away:

● Your shoulder joint looks deformed.
● You can’t use your shoulder at all.
● You’re experiencing intense pain.
● The shoulder is swelling suddenly.
● Your arm or hand is weak or numb.

Possible injury types include:

Dislocation
If your shoulder is pulled back too hard or rotated too far, the top of your arm might pop out of its socket. You will feel pain and weakness in your shoulder, along with possible swelling, numbness, and bruising.

Separation
This injury affects the joint where your collarbone and shoulder blade come together and can be caused by a fall or hard blow that tears the ligaments holding it in place. If your collarbone gets pushed out of place, you’ll likely see a bump on top of your shoulder.

Fracture
Like any other bone, the bones in your shoulder joint can break or crack if you fall or take a hard hit. The most common breaks are to the collarbone and the top of your upper arm bone.

Torn cartilage
You can injure the cartilage that goes around the rim of your shoulder joint, usually by repeating the same motion over and over. You may also hurt it in a fall or any time your shoulder absorbs a lot of force. With this type of injury, you might feel pain when you reach over your head, and your shoulder could seem weak. It might also feel like it’s catching, locking, or grinding.

Torn rotator cuff
Your rotator cuff can be damaged through overuse or in a fall. It will also begin to show wear and tear as you age. Your shoulder may hurt at night and when you try to lift things. You might hear a crackling sound when you move it.

Bursitis
The bursa, a fluid-filled sac that cushions your joint, can become swollen and irritated from repeated motions but can also be caused by a fall or another injury.

Ongoing shoulder pain can also be the result of osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that causes cartilage between bones to break down, causing pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis may also produce pain by causing your body’s immune system to attack the protective lining in your joints. In addition, the swelling of your tendons – or tendonitis – and bone spurs are other possible culprits.

Once your doctor determines that your shoulder pain is indeed caused by one of these possibilities, he or she will likely recommend one or more tests to determine the root cause before recommending treatment. Possible tests include x-rays to view the bones of your shoulder, along with an MRI or CT scan to view the tendons and other soft tissue. Electromyography (EMG) can be used to measure the electrical activity in your muscles and identify possible nerve problems, while arthroscopy allows your doctor to see – and sometimes treat – problems by surgically inserting a tiny fiber-optic camera to produce high-definition images of your shoulder.

Work with a shoulder specialist

Because the shoulder joint is such a precise configuration of bones and tissue – and because your shoulder is critical for your arm use and mobility – it’s important for you to be evaluated and treated by a specialist. If you have shoulder pain that you think may require medical attention, the team at DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Morgan County can provide the care you need.

DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine is a multidisciplinary musculoskeletal practice with ten providers on staff, including Dr. Stacy Tapscott. A Morgan County native, Dr. Tapscott earned his medical degree at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and completed his orthopaedic residency at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He also completed an additional fellowship in shoulder surgery and reconstruction at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, where he trained under internationally renowned shoulder specialists Charles A. Rockwood, Jr., M.D. and Michael A. Wirth, M.D.

Dr. Tapscott’s love of sports led him to further pursue a sports medicine fellowship with the Knoxville Orthopaedic Clinic, team physicians for the University of Tennessee, before joining DOC Orthopaedics.

Since 1972, DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine has been committed to improving the lives of our patients by providing exceptional orthopaedic care through innovative techniques, quality services, patient communication and education. With specialties ranging from general orthopaedics, physical therapy, sports medicine, joint replacement and many more, the right doctors are never out of reach with DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. So, whether you suffer from an orthopaedic disorder causing shoulder, hip, knee, foot, ankle pain, or other symptoms, our experienced providers and physical therapists can help put your life back in motion again.

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