While we may not think about this very often, our shoulders play a key part of our day-to-day activities whether they are helping to lift a box, throw a ball, or reach for an object out of our reach. The unique and flexible anatomy of the shoulder makes it the joint with the greatest range of motion but also the one with the least stability. This makes it be much more susceptible to strain and repetitive injuries than other joints. Between the ages of 18 and 88, almost everyone will experience some kind of shoulder issue.
Let’s take a closer look at how shoulders are constructed to understand their paradoxical strength and fragility. The shoulder is actually made up of two main bones: the end of upper arm bone is called the humerus and the shoulder blade is called the scapula. The end of the humerus bone is round and fits into a socket in the scapula. The shoulder is surrounded by a bag of muscles and ligaments. Ligaments connect the bones of the shoulders, and tendons connect the bones to surrounding muscle. So now that you know a bit more about your shoulders, let’s look at ways to spot common injuries, and how to know when you need to see a doctor.
Sprains are one of the most common shoulder injuries. These happen when the ligaments that hold the clavicle to the roof of the shoulder tear. This causes the clavicle to be pushed out of place and consequently form a bump at the top of the shoulder. It hurts as much as it sounds like it does. Sprains can happen when your hand or arm is stretched out to stop a sudden fall, or when you fall on a hard surface arm first. As you can imagine, it immensely decreases your shoulder movement capabilities. Should this happen to you, these are the steps to take immediately. Apply ice right after the injury to help decrease pain and swelling, Next, keep the arm in a sling to limit the movement of the shoulder, this will let the ligaments heal correctly. Treatment will depend on how bad the injury is. These steps should then be followed by physical therapy which will work specially on helping you regain needed flexibility and range of motion. In some cases surgery is needed to get back to your ability to move previous to the injury.
Rotator cuff tear
Rotator cuff tears are said to be the top cause of shoulder pain and disability in adults. If you say your shoulder is hurting, someone will probably say, “It could be your rotator cuff.” Eighty percent of the time, that is right or half right. In general, rotator cuff injuries happen to middle-aged or older adults who already have shoulder problems. However, they can happen in younger people too, including athletes. The rotator cuff tendons can be injured or torn when trying to lift a very heavy object with an extended arm.
Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include tenderness and soreness in the shoulder when using the shoulder. A clearer sign however is not being able to use it at all. When this happens it means the tendon has ruptured. Treatment depends on the severity of the injury. If the tear is not totally complete, you may be simply prescribed RICE, for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Resting the shoulder is the most important part of any shoulder injury treatment. But, after the pain has eased, you will need to start physical therapy to regain proper shoulder movement and strength.
While many injuries have fairly easy steps that can be taken at home to treat them, it is always recommended to visit a doctor when any injury happens. The cornerstone of effectively treating shoulder injuries is early, correct diagnosis. You should call a doctor if any of these symptoms appear after an injury to your shoulder to ensure proper care:
- Your shoulder appears to be deformed.
- You cannot move your shoulder normally.
- You have signs of damage to the nerves or blood vessels, such as numbness; tingling; a “pins-and-needles” sensation below the injury; or pale, cold, or bluish skin.
- You have had a shoulder problem in the past and you have shoulder pain.
- Your shoulder pain or stiffness is getting worse.
- Home treatment is not helping.