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General Practice 2023

Shoulder pain: 8 main causes and how to treat

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Shoulder pain: 8 main causes and how to treat
Shoulder pain: 8 main causes and how to treat

Shoulder pain can arise at any age, but it is usually more common in young athletes who use the joint excessively, such as tennis players or gymnasts, for example, and in the elderly, due to the natural wear and tear of the joint..

Normally, this type of pain is caused by a temporary inflammation of the shoulder structures and, therefore, can be relieved with the application of ice in the area, disappearing 3 to 5 days after its onset.

However, in some cases, this pain can be very intense, worsen over time or not relieve, and it is recommended to consult an orthopedist to identify if there is a serious problem and start appropriate treatment.

shoulder structures

Shoulder Structures

1. Bursitis

This problem is caused by inflammation of the bursa, a pillow-like structure that protects the tendons and muscles of the shoulder bones during movement. This inflammation is more common in people who do repetitive arm activities, such as painting, swimming or arm training at the gym. Learn more about what bursitis is and how to treat it.

What it feels like: It is common to experience a sharp pain in the upper or front part of the shoulder, which worsens with movement of the joint to comb hair or dress, for example.

How to treat: ice should be applied to the site for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. In addition, one should avoid using the joint in daily activities to relieve inflammation. If the pain does not improve after 2 or 3 days, it is recommended to consult a doctor, as it may be necessary to take anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Diclofenac, or even start physiotherapy.

2. Tendonitis

Tendinitis is a similar problem to bursitis, however, it causes inflammation of the shoulder tendons instead of the bursa. In many cases, it can even be accompanied by bursitis because its causes are also very similar, and can affect both types of structure at the same time.

What it feels like: this problem only causes pain in the front of the shoulder, especially when performing movements above the head line or stretching the arm forward.

How to treat: It is very important to have physical therapy sessions to treat inflammation of the tendons. In addition, applying cold compresses and applying anti-inflammatory ointments also helps to relieve pain. See more about treating tendinitis in the shoulder.

3. Arthritis

Although it is more common in the elderly, this problem can also affect young adults, especially athletes who overuse the shoulder joint due to wear and tear.

What it feels like: in addition to shoulder pain, joint swelling and difficulty moving the arm are common. Since arthritis is not a temporary problem, symptoms can get worse over time.

How to treat: the treatment should be guided by an orthopedist because, normally, it is necessary to use anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen or Nimesulide, to relieve pain. Physiotherapy should also be used as it helps to strengthen the joint and reduce inflammation, improving shoulder movements.

4. Adhesive capsulitis

This problem, also known as frozen shoulder, is a chronic inflammation of the shoulder that makes it very difficult for the joint to move. Adhesive capsulitis is more common in women over 40 who have had their arm immobilized for more than 2 months.

What it feels like: in addition to pain, capsulitis causes intense difficulty in moving the arm, which gradually appears. Know the signs that help identify this problem.

How to treat: It is recommended to have physiotherapy sessions to mobilize the shoulder and relax the muscles of the joint. In the most severe cases, surgery may be required to identify and repair possible shoulder injuries. Learn more about the treatment of adhesive capsulitis.

5. Fractures

Although they are almost always easy to identify, fractures can also cause few symptoms other than shoulder pain, especially when they have not occurred completely or are very small. The most common is the appearance of clavicle or humerus fractures due to falls or accidents.

What it feels like: usually fractures cause very intense pain, swelling and bruises on the skin. However, when they are very small, they can only cause a slight pain that increases over time and prevents movement of the arm.

How to treat: you should immediately go to the hospital to identify the fracture site, correct the bone and immobilize the arm in the correct way to facilitate healing. Learn about first aid in case of fracture.

How is shoulder pain diagnosed

The diagnosis of shoulder pain should be made by the orthopedist, who during the consultation evaluates all the structures associated with the shoulder and the characteristics of the pain, such as intensity, location, whether it is stimulated by any specific movement and its frequency, for example. It is also seen by the orthopedist if there is any limitation of movement, such as difficulty in stretching the arm or raising it above the head.

Furthermore, the physician should be informed by the patient about lifestyle habits and the time when the pain started, as the pain may be related to repetitive movements, incorrect posture, or swelling or inflammation of the joint due to a sudden movement, for example.

To aid the diagnosis, the doctor may recommend performing imaging tests such as x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI, which help identify the cause and extent of the injury.The orthopedist may also recommend performing arthroscopy, which is a diagnostic and treatment technique in which the joint is visualized and corrected through small holes in the skin. Find out what it is and how shoulder arthroscopy is performed.

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