Shoulder Pain a Common Ailment

Athletic Trainer: Treatments Range from Rest to Surgery  

Whether caused by an accident or overuse, shoulder pain can limit your activities. It is also a common ailment that patients report to their medical provider.  

The shoulder has a wide range of motions and is used in everything from throwing a ball to picking an item off the ground. With multiple bones, tendons and muscles working together to provide a full-range of movement, diagnosing and treating shoulder pain can get complicated.  

People can experience constant shoulder pain or just while doing a certain movement. Pain intensity can also vary in its intensity. Shoulder pain is usually related to one of four causes: tendon inflammation (bursitis or tendinitis) or tendon tear, instability, arthritis or fracture.  

If the shoulder pain is intense and caused by an injury, seek medical attention as soon as possible. In addition, if the shoulder pain is accompanied by chest or back pain, it could be the sign of a heart attack so seek medical attention immediately.  

For less severe shoulder pain, patients can try several remedies at home, including icing the area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever and resting the shoulder. If those efforts do not help and the area is swelling, tender and warm around the joint or the pain worsens, then it’s time to see a medical provider.  

A medical provider will carefully examine the shoulder and ask questions about the pain, including how long it has been present, any injuries, history of arthritis or repetitive motions. From there, some additional tests, including an x-ray, MRI or CT scan, may be needed to diagnose the exact cause of the pain. If those tests do not identify the cause of the pain, a doctor may perform arthroscopy surgery, a procedure to help identify soft tissue injuries that did not show up on other tests. In some cases, arthroscopy can be used to correct the problem.  

The treatment for shoulder pain depends on the cause and severity of the pain. The good news is that an estimated 90 percent of patients with shoulder pain will not need surgery. In addition to surgery, here are some additional ways shoulder pain can be treated:  

  • Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) and corticosteroid injections can bring pain relief.
  • Physical therapy: These are simple exercises to strengthen and stretch the shoulder muscles and rotor cuff tendons. The therapist can show you how to do them correctly and then you can continue them at home.  
  • Sling: A medical provider may recommend a sling for some injuries since the shoulder may just need time to rest and recover.  

While shoulder pain may be common – and becomes more likely as you age – it can be successfully treated so people can resume their activities.  

Kayla Pfeiffer is a licensed athletic trainer with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care at ThedaCare Medical Center-New London.