Shoulder Pain in Adults: Exploring the Causes, Treatment & Prevention


shoulder pain

Shoulder pain is a common complaint among most adults today. Whether it stems from an injury, overuse or a chronic condition, shoulder pain can significantly impact one's daily life and functionality. In this blog, we will look into the various causes of shoulder pain in adults and explore effective management strategies to alleviate discomfort and restore shoulder function.
Before delving into the causes of shoulder pain, it is essential to understand the complexity of the shoulder joint. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint comprising the humerus or upper arm bone, scapula or shoulder blade and clavicle or collarbone (Murphy, R.J. and Carr, A.J., 2010. Shoulder pain. BMJ clinical evidence, 2010). The joint is supported by a network of muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing for a wide range of motion. To get expert insights on shoulder pain, refer to DocTube. 

Shoulder Pain Causes

1) Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and facilitate movement. Injuries to the rotator cuff, such as tears or strains, are a leading cause of shoulder pain (Meister, K. and Andrews, J.R., 1993. Classification and treatment of rotator cuff injuries in the overhand athlete. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 18(2), pp.413-421). These injuries often result from repetitive overhead movements, trauma or degenerative changes with age.

2) Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint, limiting range of motion. It typically develops gradually and can be triggered by prolonged immobilization, underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, or previous shoulder injuries.

3) Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become compressed and irritated, leading to pain and inflammation (Koester, M.C., George, M.S. and Kuhn, J.E., 2005. Shoulder impingement syndrome. The American journal of medicine, 118(5), pp.452-455). This condition is commonly associated with repetitive overhead activities, such as lifting, and can result in discomfort during arm movements.

4) Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder occurs when the protective cartilage in the joint wears down over time, causing pain, stiffness and decreased mobility. This degenerative condition is more common in older adults and can be exacerbated by factors such as overuse, obesity or previous injuries.

5) Bursitis

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints and reduce friction between tendons and bones (Allen, G.M., 2018. The diagnosis and management of shoulder pain. Journal of ultrasonography, 18(74), pp.234-239). In the shoulder, bursitis can occur due to repetitive motions or direct trauma, resulting in pain, swelling and limited range of motion.

Treatment of Shoulder Pain

1) Rest and Immobilization

In many cases, resting the affected shoulder and avoiding activities that aggravate the pain can help alleviate discomfort (Satpute, K.H., Bhandari, P. and Hall, T., 2015. Efficacy of hand behind back mobilization with movement for acute shoulder pain and movement impairment: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics, 38(5), pp.324-334). Immobilization through the use of slings or braces is often recommended to allow the shoulder joint to heal properly.

2) Physical Therapy

Physical therapy exercises can improve strength, flexibility and range of motion in the shoulder. A qualified physical therapist can develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to the patient’s specific needs and goals.

3) Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce inflammation and alleviate shoulder pain (Mehuys, E., Crombez, G., Paemeleire, K., Adriaens, E., Van Hees, T., Demarche, S., Christiaens, T., Van Bortel, L., Van Tongelen, I., Remon, J.P. and Boussery, K., 2019. Self-medication with over-the-counter analgesics: a survey of patient characteristics and concerns about pain medication. The journal of pain, 20(2), pp.215-223). Corticosteroid injections are often prescribed to offer temporary relief from severe inflammation and pain. 

4) Heat and Cold Therapy

Applying heat or cold packs to the shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation. Heat therapy can relax muscles and improve blood flow, while cold therapy can numb the area and decrease swelling.

5) Surgical Intervention

Surgical interventions may be needed in cases where conservative treatments do not offer relief (Chaudhury, S., Gwilym, S.E., Moser, J. and Carr, A.J., 2010. Surgical options for patients with shoulder pain. Nature Reviews Rheumatology, 6(4), pp.217-226). Procedures such as arthroscopic surgery or shoulder replacement surgery may be recommended to repair damaged tissues or replace the affected joint.

Prevention of Shoulder Pain

In many cases, shoulder pain may not be preventable, especially if the pain is a result of accidents, injury or any underlying conditions. However, it is possible to reduce the risk of shoulder injury by keeping in mind the following aspects:
  • Wearing protective equipment
  • Stopping any physical activity wherein you feel pain
  • Giving your body the time to recover and rest after activities
  • Stretching, warming up and cooling down before as well as after exercising or playing sports.
Shoulder pain can significantly impact one's quality of life, but with proper understanding and management, individuals can find relief and regain function in their shoulders. By identifying the underlying causes of shoulder pain and implementing appropriate treatment strategies, adults can effectively manage their symptoms and prevent further complications. 


  What are the best ways to diagnose shoulder pain?  

The best ways to diagnose shoulder pain are X-rays and MRI scans. X-rays help to show injuries to the bones in the shoulder joint. On the other hand, MRI scans and ultrasound are effective imaging tests that create better pictures of soft tissues.

  Which therapy is the best for shoulder pain?  

Physical therapy is widely considered to be the best treatment for shoulder pain. The primary goal of physical therapy is to help patients regain their strength and movement in the affected shoulder. This makes it easier for them to go for different activities without pain.


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