Whether shooting hoops, lifting boxes or pushing a lawn mower, we rely heavily on our shoulders to perform a number of activities. It’s also the most mobile joint in the body, which is why it’s the most vulnerable to injury.
To help prevent shoulder problems and injuries, it’s important to understand common conditions and when it’s best to see the doctor.
- Shoulder Instability – Most common in young people and athletes, shoulder instability occurs when the muscles and ligaments holding it together are stretched beyond their normal limits.
- Shoulder Dislocation – Often caused by a significant force, the shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated major joint of the body — separating the joint’s ball (the humerus) from its socket (glenoid).
- Rotator Cuff Tear – A group of four muscles of the upper arm, the rotator cuff allows you to raise and rotate the arm. When these tendons tear, it makes it hard for the ball to move in the socket.
- Frozen Shoulder – Extreme stiffness, or Frozen Shoulder, can happen at any age when a minor shoulder injury heals with scar tissue that affects how the joint moves.
- Overuse or Strains – Most common in middle age adults, overuse or strained shoulders occurs with a sudden increase in activity—placing great stress on the joints and leading to a loss of flexibility.
- Arthritis – Starting as early as age 50, osteoarthritis or painful movement in the shoulder may cause problems for some people.
Shoulder arthritis can be terribly disabling to those who have this condition. The pain, stiffness and loss of function make day-to-day activities very stressful.
Function Follows Form
The shoulder is a “ball and socket joint.” The surface of the ball (humeral head) and the cup (glenoid) are both covered with a shiny, smooth surface called cartilage. These surfaces enable the healthy shoulder to move smoothly through a pain-free range of motion.
The healthy shoulder has a much larger range of motion than most joints in the body, allowing people to perform activities in front of them, above their heads, and behind their backs in a pain-free manner.
When the shoulder surface cartilage has worn away, patients experience a loss of motion, pain and sometimes crunching, catching and locking when the shoulder is moved. This loss of motion makes it very difficult to do movements away from one’s body or above one’s head. Reaching behind one’s back is significantly affected, and the pain often causes other problems including difficulty sleeping.
Getting You Back in Form
Nonsurgical approaches are recommended as first steps. These include anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone shots and physical therapy designed to optimize shoulder motion and strength. When these treatments no longer work, surgical approaches can help reach the goals of eliminating pain and restoring motion as quickly as possible. Every patient is different, and surgical approaches are tailored to each patient’s specific needs.