The shoulder is your most complex and mobile joint. The balance of extreme motion with fine control and strength allows us to participate in a wide variety of professional and athletic endeavors. Unfortunately it also exposes us to a variety of injuries. Shoulder pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints that bring people to medical attention. Common symptoms include pain at night, popping (we call that crepitance) and pain with overhead use of the arm. Weakness and a feeling of shoulder fatigue are also common. Pain will frequently come and go with no warning.
Treating shoulder pain
Most shoulder pain is self-limited and relates to inflammation. Often a short course of anti-inflammatories (provided they are safe for you to take) will help sort things out. Stick to the recommended dosing schedule without skipping doses for 3-5 days and you will see better results than taking them intermittently. Ceasing any activity that causes shoulder pain and liberal use of ice are also good ways to improve function. Ice can safely be applied for 15 minutes at a time, every couple of hours. Once your pain resolves, starting a simple shoulder exercise program can improve shoulder strength and will often ward off a return of problems. A quick visit with a good physical therapist is a good way to get started on the path to good shoulder health!
When to seek help
Sometimes shoulder pain can be more than just irritation. Pain or weakness that persists for more than a few weeks and does not respond to simple, conservative treatment can be cause for concern. Additionally, any injury that produces significant bruising, any visible deformity or a painful or audible pop or snap should be evaluated. Common injuries include rotator cuff tears, instability or tears to the joint lining. A quick call to your primary care provider can point you in the right direction, but many insurance providers allow a visit to a specialist without a referral. In that case, your best bet is to identify a fellowship trained shoulder specialist.
There are many ways your doctor can help treat your shoulder woes. Sometimes a cortisone injection can provide needed relief. Corticosteroids work as a powerful anti-inflammatory, and since they can be infected right into the problem area the effect can be quite powerful. Sometimes your doctor might recommend surgical treatment for your shoulder. Through minimally invasive keyhole incisions the vast majority of shoulder injuries can be repaired. This technique allows for a quick recovery with minimal scar formation and much less post-operative discomfort. Arthroscopic surgery allows you to get back to your life faster with less pain while improving the quality of the surgical repair.