The shoulder is a major part of the body (skeleton). The shoulder can be described as the part of the body between the neck and the upper part of the arm.
However, when we think of the shoulder, what readily comes to mind is the shoulder joint – the ball-and-socket joint connecting the humerus, clavicle and the scapula. The shoulder joint is said to be the most mobile joint in the body.
The shoulder joint comprises the following major parts: the capsule (a tough fibrous tissue), the rotator cuff (a group of 4 muscles and their connecting tendons), bursa, and the acromion.
Shoulder pain rotator cuff
As hinted already, the rotator cuff of the shoulder is a group of 4 muscles and their connecting tendons. This structure of muscles and tendons helps in controlling movement, and in holding the joint together.
With that said, this article is about shoulder pain, its causes, symptoms, and methods of treatment. Shoulder pain is becoming a popular type of pain in this century. This is unrelated to the contemporary way of lifestyle and health problems of the 21st century. But, before we dive into the crux of the matter, let us see a little description of shoulder pain.
What is shoulder pain?
Shoulder pain is a condition where there is a painful feeling or discomfort when one tries to use the shoulder. Shoulder pain may be the result of different causes, including diseases like heart problems.
Shoulder pain can be the direct result of an injury or damage to the shoulder tissues. It can also be as a result of damage to some other body structure; in this case, the pain is known as referred shoulder pain. While direct shoulder pain is more painful and gets worse with use of the shoulder, referred shoulder pain doesn’t.
Causes of shoulder pain
Shoulder pain may arise as a result of different factors. Some of the common causes of shoulder pain are:
- Injuries to the shoulder
- Injury to the collarbone
- Injuries to the rotator cuff
- Dislocated shoulder
- Shoulder bursitis
- Shoulder arthritis
- Adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder
- Heart attack
- Herniated disc
- Lung cancer
Shoulder pain relief
The following are some methods of bringing relief to shoulder pain at home
- Sitting with a pillow under your lower back
- Using OTC (over-the-counter) analgesics like paracetamol
- Standing up straight with the shoulders relaxed
- Trying out some exercises for shoulder pain
Shoulder pain exercises
People suffering from mild cases of shoulder pain can try any of the following simple exercises:
- Shoulder stretch: In shoulder stretch, you raise your shoulders for about 5 seconds while standing. Then, move the raised shoulders backward in such a way that they seem to come together – let the shoulders remain this way for another 5 seconds. Finally, bring down the shoulders and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat the process at least 8 more times.
- Door press: First, stand in front of a door way. Next, with your right elbow bent at an angle (90o), place the back of your right wrist against the right side frame of the doorway. Then, start pushing your right arm outwards (with your wrist still touching the door). Stop and hold for 5 seconds. Do this two more times and repeat 9 times more on both arms.
- Pendulum exercise: For this exercise, you will need to stand up; then, with your good arm placed on a chair, gently start swinging the affected arm back and forth in a circular way. This process should be repeated about 4 more times and done at least twice every day.
- Door lean: To perform this exercise, stand in a doorway with both of your arms raised above your head and placed on the wall atop the doorway. Then, gradually start to lean forward until you sense that your shoulders have stretched to their limits. Continue leaning for about 30 seconds, and then repeat the process. A word of caution though, you shouldn’t attempt this exercise if the pain was caused by an impingement to your shoulder.
Shoulder pain diagnosis
Shoulder pain can be diagnosed through different methods including physical examinations and X-ray scans.
In diagnosing shoulder pain, the doctor will normally start by evaluating the patient to ascertain the cause of the pain. This evaluation usually begins with the doctor asking the patient questions bordering on general health and more specific ones related to the shoulder pain.
After the evaluation process, a physical examination is then conducted to further find the cause of the pain. Here, the doctor checks for any signs of swelling, muscle weakness, injury, and tenderness. The doctor will also try to check for the range of motion of the affected shoulder.
If the doctor is not satisfied with the physical examination, he/she may ask the patient to go through some tests to better determine the cause of the shoulder pain. These tests range from X-ray/CT scans to an EMG (electromyogram) or arthroscopy.
Shoulder pain symptoms
Common symptoms of shoulder pain include;
- Pain in the shoulder
- Pain when moving the arm
- Pain at night, particularly when you rest on the affected arm
- Shoulder pain when lifting arm
- Tenderness of the shoulder muscles
NOTE: It is also important to mention that shoulder pain can be a symptom of some other health condition. In such a situation, you may experience other symptoms, which are not directly caused by the shoulder pain, but by the underlying problem.
Shoulder pain and cancer
Sometimes shoulder pain may be the symptom of a cancer – lung cancer. This is because lung cancer can cause a painful feeling in the shoulders. In these scenarios, lung cancer may be diagnosed as shoulder pain.
Lung cancer can affect the shoulder through bone metastases, which is the spreading of cancer cells to the bones. Also, another form of lung cancer, called pancoast tumors, can be the cause of the shoulder pain. This form of cancer usually affects the upper part of the lungs and can spread to the shoulder tissues, causing pain in the shoulders.
That being said, it might be difficult differentiating shoulder pain caused by cancer and shoulder pain due to other causes. This is because the symptoms are most likely identical. Thus, if you are uncertain about the cause of your shoulder pain, you should consult with a doctor.
Right shoulder pain symptoms
Right shoulder pain can be caused by any of the aforementioned general causes of shoulder pain. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), right shoulder pain may be caused by inflammation or tearing of the tissues surrounding the right shoulder. And like the general symptoms of shoulder pain, right shoulder pain also comes with the same symptoms – pain in the shoulder, tenderness of the shoulder, etc.
In some rare cases, shoulder pain may be the symptom of an impending heart attack. In such cases, the shoulder pain is a referred pain, as the origin of the pain is outside the shoulders. While it is more common for men to feel the pain in their left arms, women may experience the pain in either arm.
Shoulder pain treatment
Treatment options for shoulder pain include a combination of rest, surgery, medication, physical therapy, and changes in activity. However, the type of treatment to be done to relieve shoulder pain will mostly depend on the cause of the pain.
If the shoulder pain is caused by an injury to the shoulder such as a fracture or a dislocation, a visit to the orthopedist will help to correct the problem. In such a case, the arm would be held in a sling to protect the shoulder until the injury goes.
When shoulder pain is as a result of some inflammatory condition like arthritis, you can use NSAIDs like diclofenac or ibuprofen to reduce the swelling. You can also try using ice compress or heat to reduce the pain. Treating an underlying health condition can also help to bring relief to your shoulder pain.
For shoulder pain caused by lung cancer, there are two major ways of dealing with the problem. The first method has to do with reducing the cancer cells residing in the lungs. This can be done through surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, or localized radiotherapy. This method is usually done when the shoulder pain is referred i.e. the origin of the pain is not actually the shoulder, but the lungs.
On the other hand, if the shoulder pain is as a result of the cancer spread to the shoulder tissues, radiotherapy should be done.
That said, regardless of the cause of shoulder pain, rest is very important if you want a quick recovery. This does not, however, mean that you shouldn’t make use of the shoulders. There needs to be a balance between how much you make use of the shoulders and how much rest it gets. This is because an overuse of the affected shoulder will not only cause an aggravation of the problem, but can lead to stiffening of the shoulder joint. Thus, you need to reduce any activity that may put a strain on your shoulders.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, shoulder pain can be caused by different reasons. Understanding the cause of the shoulder pain is the first step in finding a lasting solution to the problem. And with several options of treatment, shoulder pain should not be a major problem anymore. However, if the pain persists, even after adequate treatment, you need to visit a doctor as quickly as you can.