Shoulders often go underappreciated in daily life, as we carry out tasks and movements without thinking about the work that’s going on behind the scenes…until an injury occurs.
Common shoulder injuries affect people worldwide, regardless of age and situation, as they can strike due to merely moving the shoulder the wrong way or with too much force.
When this happens, it’s imperative it’s treated in the most appropriate way - so it doesn’t further hinder your plans, especially as it can be incredibly frustrating.
But knowing how to treat these can be difficult if you’ve just been told the usual of ‘rest and exercise.’ To help you treat some of the most common shoulder injuries, we’ve outlined treatment options for all.
How Do I Know What Type of Shoulder Injury I Have?
Shoulder injuries can come in many forms and it can be incredibly challenging to figure out the cause or even category of injury that you’re experiencing.
One of the best ways - aside from speaking with a medical professional who should be able to pinpoint the injury - is to assess where it’s hurting and what the pain feels like.
Do you have pain all the way down to your hand?
Common shoulder injuries and conditions can trickle down to your arm and even your hands, so while it might not feel solely like a shoulder injury, that could be the starting point.
If the pain does reach your hands and fingers, this could be thoracic outlet syndrome. Or you could be experiencing cervical radiculopathy or brachial plexus injuries.
Is the pain sitting between your shoulder and elbow?
This could be a dislocated shoulder, upper arm fracture, frozen shoulder, calcific tendinitis, torn rotator cuff, or rotator cuff disease.
Do you feel the pain in your shoulder joint and upper arm?
If you have stiffness in the ball of your shoulder joint, this could be a rotator cuff problem.
A shoulder sprain can also be felt in the shoulder, upper arm, and collarbone. A separated shoulder, brachial plexus injury, brachial neuritis, calcific tendinitis, dislocated shoulder, torn rotator cuff, or shoulder osteoarthritis are other conditions which affect this area.
Next, determine the type of pain you’re feeling.
If the pain is dull, constant, or feels like the area is aching, this could be a frozen shoulder, glenohumeral osteoarthritis, a rotator cuff tear, or rotator cuff tendonitis. This will be quite uncomfortable.
If, however, your shoulder feels as though it’s burning, numb, or features shooting pain that sometimes travels down to your hands or neck, this could be: a pinched nerve, brachial plexus injury, or brachial plexus neuritis.
Slightly similar is the shoulder being warm or hot to the touch. If this is familiar, it could be shoulder bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, or an infection.
And finally, if the pain is sharp and often triggered by sudden movements or when rotating the arm, this could be a frozen shoulder, shoulder impingement syndrome, or AC joint arthritis.
Shoulder Joint Anatomy
The shoulder is much more intricate than many think, as it comprises several key muscle groups, each playing a unique role in the overall functionality of the shoulder and arms.
Starting with an overview of the shoulder joint: This is the glenohumeral joint and is a ball-and-socket which means it’s highly mobile and allows for a wide range of motion. It includes three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collarbone).
The key structures in the shoulder joint include:
Humerus: This is the long bone in the upper arm and the head of the humerus is the ‘ball’ of the ball-and-socket joint.
Scapula: The scapula or shoulder blade is a flat, triangular bone which sits at the back of the ribcage.
Clavicle: This is a slender bone that runs horizontally across the front of the shoulder. It connects the scapula to the sternum and provides stability and support to the shoulder joint.
Glenoid Labrum: This is a fibrocartilaginous rim that surrounds the glenoid cavity - further enabling stability in the shoulder joint. It helps to keep the humeral head securely within the socket.
Rotator Cuff: The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and their tendons. These muscles are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and the subscapularis. All of these enable flexion, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation.
Bursa: The shoulder joint contains a synovial sac called the subacromial bursa. This reduces friction between the rotator cuff tendons and the bony scapula.
Ligaments: Several ligaments connect the humerus and scapula to bring stability to the joint. These include the coracohumeral ligament and three glenohumeral ligaments.
Muscles: Other than the rotator cuff muscles, several other muscles contribute to shoulder movements, including the deltoid, pectoralis major, and the muscles of the scapula, such as the trapezius and serratus anterior.
How Common Shoulder Injuries Are Acquired
Unfortunately there’s no easy answer for this, as common shoulder injuries can be acquired through many different ways and some are even brought on by the general wear and tear as our bodies age.
For some, it might be difficult to highlight the moment where the injury first started as it could be due to several reasons.
However, some of the common explanations are:
Poor Posture: Slouching or sitting incorrectly can lead to overuse of muscles in the shoulder and neck. It can bring on shoulder impingement syndrome, so ensure you have an ergonomic chair and readjust your posture if you notice yourself slipping.
Aging: As people age, protective cartilage in the shoulder can wear down and tendons and ligaments may weaken. This can bring an onslaught of injuries and conditions.
Trauma: Falling on an outstretched arm or directly onto the shoulder can lead to fractures, dislocations, or soft tissue injuries. Sports injuries, seen in rugby, snowboarding, and more can cause trauma to our muscles and ligaments. And high-impact car accidents are another popular cause of common shoulder injuries.
Home Care For Shoulder Injuries
Surgery is invasive, painful, and often not needed for the majority of common shoulder injuries. Instead, a cocktail of home care remedies is usually prescribed. From rest to light exercises and stretching, treating your injury at home can be amazing for your recovery.
Using therapeutic treatments like red light therapy can help heal your shoulder injury or act as effective pain management when you need it most.
Red Light Therapy For Shoulder Injuries
Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that harnesses the power of specific wavelengths of light to promote cellular function, repair, and regeneration.
These wavelengths can penetrate the skin, and reach cells, tissues, and even deeper structures like muscles and bones. Once this connection is made, it stimulates a series of biochemical reactions, including the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - the molecule that gives us energy.
This treatment has become invaluable for promoting healing, reducing inflammation, speeding up tissue repair, and soothing muscle soreness.
At Kineon, we have created a medical-grade light therapy device - called Move+ Pro - that can help reduce shoulder pain in as little as 5 minutes. And the best part? You can treat your pain at home.
The Move+ Pro is a small device that is completely wireless, so you don’t have to be tethered in to use it. It’s also FDA-registered, giving you peace of mind that you’re getting a reliable and effective device to help you on your journey to rehabilitation.
When To Seek Professional Medical Attention
If your pain is extreme and hindering your day-to-day, consult a medical professional in the first instance to determine the cause and any potential treatment options.
If you’re unsure, you should always seek out support and get the help you need.
Aside from this, there are some instances where you should always go to the medical center. If you have…
- Pain after a rough injury (like a car accident)
- Difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder, or if you’re finding it hard to do so when you wouldn’t normally
- Have severe weakness or numbness in both legs
- Sudden extreme pain in the low back, leg, or numbness or loss of feeling in a leg
- Major discomfort or pain in both sides of your body
Most Common Shoulder Injuries + Treatments
Rotator Cuff Tear
The rotator cuff includes the muscles and tendons that hold your arm in place and make it so you can lift it over your head.
Unfortunately, the rotator cuff is affected most often as it takes the brunt of the daily wear and tear. It can be damaged through overuse (easily done, especially if you’re lifting or raising your arms regularly) or aging.
The first signs of a rotator cuff tear could be a grating, popping, or a cracking sound when you move your arm. You may then feel weakness when rotating, lowering, or rotating your arm. The discomfort of rotator cuff injuries can heighten after periods of rest or at night.
- Surgery may be required in extreme cases.
- Exercises and stretching are a great way to increase mobility and allow the area to regain strength.
- Due to the healing of the wound and inflammation you may feel, red light therapy would be another useful tool.
If you’re suffering from a frozen shoulder, a deep and aching pain will most likely be felt in the shoulder joint.
It’s a condition that is painful and limiting as it affects the mobility due to inflammation and thickening of the shoulder joint capsule which is the connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint.
Age is a factor for the onset of a frozen shoulder - it’s most felt in people over 40. Some medical conditions have a higher risk of developing this too, including thyroid disorders, heart disease, and diabetes. Other than medical, lifestyle, habits, and genetics can all play a factor in someone getting a frozen shoulder.
Unfortunately, this condition can feel ever-lasting as it will progress through different stages before it resolves over time.
These stages include the freezing stage which is the gradual onset of pain and increasing shoulder stiffness, sometimes lasting several months. Next is the frozen stage where the pain may lessen but stiffness can increase, spanning 4-12 months. Then, finally, the thawing stage is where the shoulder gradually begins to improve and this can take from 6 months to 2 years.
- Gentle stretching exercises can help reduce stiffness and gradually increase mobility
- Some doctors may recommend corticosteroid injections
- Red light therapy to reduce inflammation and ease pain
- Ultrasound therapy
- Accupuncture or massages by a trained professional
There are many types of arthritis but generally, it’s a condition that affects the joints in the body. Inflammation and damage to the joints occurs, resulting in pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile, and gout is similar too.
Age is a major factor for osteoarthritis as the cartilage that cushions the joints will naturally wear down over time. Whereas rheumatoid arthritis, for example, is due to an autoimmune response in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium - the lining of the membranes that surround the joints.
- Red light therapy for chronic pain
- Physical therapy to improve range of motion
- Lifestyle modifications to minimize stress on the shoulder
- Shoulder replacement (in extreme cases)
Otherwise known as shoulder arthroplasty, shoulder replacement isn’t an injury but a surgical procedure to fix a damaged shoulder joint - usually with a prosthetic implant.
This could mean a total shoulder replacement, a partial replacement, or a reverse total shoulder replacement. The latter is for people with rotator cuff tears and it involves reversing the normal anatomy of the shoulder joint by placing the prosthetic ball on the scapula and the socket on the humerus. This results in better stability and function for those with significant rotator cuff damage.
A partial replacement is where only the ball (head of the humerus) is replaced with a prosthesis, while the natural socket (glenoid) remains intact. A partial procedure is usually considered if the natural socket is still healthy.
Common situations that may necessitate a shoulder replacement could be osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis, rotator cuff tears, avascular necrosis, complex fractures, or if previous treatments have failed.
This is a major medical procedure that is only recommended when non-surgical treatments aren’t effective.
- Pain management is key post-operation. Red light therapy is useful for this
- Physical therapy with a physio
- Proper wound care to prevent infection
- Immobilization if required, such as placing your shoulder in a sling or brace
Overuse And Strain
A strain is one of those frustrating injuries that we’ve probably all experienced at one point in time. It can happen when the shoulder is subjected to a sudden or forceful movement, or can be triggered from excessive stretching.
Similarly, if your shoulder is routinely subjected to repetitive movements or excessive strain over a prolonged period, your muscles can become fatigued and overused. For some, this can be brought on by my daily work activities as lifting heavy objects, throwing, or doing overhead movements can cause overuse. Labourers are susceptible to this as a result of their normal routines.
- Rest and relaxation
- Change in lifestyle and activities to protect and prevent future strains
- Bracing the shoulder
- Strengthening exercises and gentle stretches
- Massage therapy
Shoulder instability is characterized by the abnormal movement of the upper arm bone (humerus) within the shoulder socket (glenoid). Instability can range from a slight slipping sensation to a complete dislocation, where the humerus is forced out of the socket.
It’s categorized into two types:
Bankart Lesion: This is a tear of the labrum, a ring of cartilage that surrounds the glenoid and helps stabilize the shoulder joint. It typically occurs due to a traumatic dislocation or repeated partial dislocations. It can be seen often in athletes or younger people.
Multidirectional Instability: This is where the ligaments, tendons, and joint capsule around the shoulder are overly stretched, leading to excessive movement of the humerus within the joint.
Common causes can be age, genetic factors, repetitive overhead movements, or trauma such as a fall or forceful impact.
- Surgery for extreme situations
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory pain relief, such as medications (as prescribed) and red light therapy
- Lifestyle modifications
A labral tear is an injury that impacts the labrum which is a ring of cartilage that lines and surrounds the socket of the shoulder joint, providing stability and cushioning. Although labral tears are not restricted to the shoulder, as it can happen to any joint.
To repair or reconstruct the labrum, surgery may be required. In other cases, conservative management such as rest, physical therapy, and other pain-easing treatments is enough to gradually appease the area.
- Surgery if needed
- Rest and activity modification
- Pain management treatments
A slap tear stands for ‘Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior tear’ and it only affects the shoulder joint. The severity of this is categorized by ‘Type I,’ ‘Type II,’ and so on and so forth.
Causes can be due to trauma or injury to the shoulder, especially if there’s been a fall or direct blow to the area. Repetitive overhead arm motions, like you’d find in baseball, tennis, and swimming, can bring on a slap tear as well. And of course, wear and tear of the labrum as the body ages can be another cause.
If you think you may have a slap tear, consult a healthcare provider as diagnosis is via a physical examination and sometimes an MRI or arthroscopy.
- Rest and relaxation
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory measures, like medication (if prescribed) and red light therapy
- Surgery if needed
Otherwise known as a pinched nerve, an impingement can occur when the tendons within the rotator cuff get nipped between the bones of the shoulder. Surprisingly, this common shoulder injury results in 44% to 65% of shoulder pain complaints.
You are most likely to feel a shoulder impingement when lifting your arms over your head. This pain can start by being tender in the front of your shoulder and it then may move from the front to the side of your arm.
There are four types of shoulder impingement that you could be feeling: anterior acromial impingement, subcoracoid impingement, posterosuperior glenoid rim impingement, or a suprascapular nerve impingement.
- Rest and activity modification (no lifting arms overhead)
- Physical therapy
- Red light therapy
- Corticosteroid injections
- Improved measures for posture and ergonomics
- Exercises to strengthen and stabilize the scapula