What’s Causing Your Shoulder Pain?

shoulder-pain-97171907Has combing your hair or getting dressed become strangely painful? You might have a rotator cuff tear, which is estimated to affect around 2 million people.

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help you lift and rotate your arm.

If you fall on your arm or lift something too heavy with a jerking motion, you can injure your rotator cuff.

Most tears, however, are the result of wear and tear associated with aging. As you age, the blood supply in your rotator cuff lessens, which weakens your body’s ability to repair tears. Routine chores that involve repetitive shoulder motions can also lead to tears—especially if the work is overhead.

Symptoms include pain—especially if you’re lying on the affected shoulder—as well as weakness when you lift or rotate your arm. It will hurt to lift your arm to the side. The pain might be mild at first, but it may eventually persist—even when you’re taking medication to fight it. It may become even more noticeable at night when you’re trying to sleep.

If you have any of these symptoms, see your health-care provider. He or she will probably order an X-ray, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to diagnose a tear.

Take heart: About half of all patients don’t require surgery. Treatment options include rest; avoiding activities that bring on the pain; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications; physical therapy; and acupuncture, which helps to treat the tear by improving blood supply to the affected area.

Exercise can help improve your range of motion and flexibility. Strengthening the muscles that support your shoulder can help reduce pain and prevent further injury. Surgery—which involves reattaching the tendon to the upper arm bone—is typically recommended if your symptoms have lasted for 6 to 12 months; you have a large tear (more than 3 centimeters); or you have a significant weakness or loss of function in your shoulder. Keep in mind there are risks, such as infection, permanent stiffness and a lengthy recovery so before you try surgery you may want to try alternative measures such as physical therapy and acupuncture.

If you want to learn more about how physical therapy or acupuncture can help rotator cuff injuries, contact us here.

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