Shoulder and arm pain caused by shoulder injuries are common. Women with weak shoulder muscles are at increased risk. When visiting my doctor for an unrelated matter, I mentioned that I had this terrible pain in the muscle of my upper arm when I reached up or behind my back. I had tried hot and cold packs and creams - nothing worked. My doctor said: "It's not your arm muscle; it is your shoulder." Nerves from the shoulder area run down the arm, so an injury in the shoulder can produce pain a distance away.
What causes shoulder injuries?
The shoulder is the most movable joint in your body; it has a wider and more varied range of motion than any other body part. It can easily be injured during sporting activities and physical activity, especially those with repetitive motions. The shoulder becomes especially prone to problems as we age, because of soft tissue degeneration. I determined that my injury was either caused or aggravated by carrying a heavy shoulder bag daily.
Kinds of shoulder injuries
1. Tendinitis and bursitis
Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder and bursitis is an inflammation of the soft tissue in the shoulder rotator cuff. The onset of pain may be slow and the pain may travel down your upper arm.
2. Rotator cuff tear
Muscles and tendons have degenerated or have been torn. Often you can hear a click when you move your arm.
3. Frozen shoulder
Frozen shoulder, also called Adhesive Capsulitis, has many causes and is characterized by severe restriction of movement and pain.
The ligaments that hold the shoulder joint together are partially or completely torn.
During shoulder dislocation the humerus (upper arm bone) is pulled out of its socket by a strong force or an extreme rotation. The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated joint in the body according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Muscloskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
6. Arthritis of the shoulder
Arthritis of the shoulder can be caused by osteoarthritis, which is caused by damage to the cartilage, or by rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease of joints.
A fracture of the shoulder, partial or complete, usually involves the neck or bone area below the ball.
Diagnosis and tests
If you have a shoulder or upper arm problem, your doctor can diagnose it by asking you to move your arms in specific ways and by ordering an X-ray, MRI, or Ultrasound exam. An X-ray can detect a fracture, dislocation, separation, or arthritic change. An Ultrasound test can detect problems with the rotator cuff, while an MRI is good at diagnosing tendon tears.
All shoulder injuries benefit from similar treatments, surgery is only required when non-surgical approaches fail or the injury is severe and acute. The first treatment approach is to reduce pain and inflammation. Your doctor will often recommend over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. In some cases an injection of cortisone is necessary to relieve the pain. The next treatment step is exercise to gently stretch the joint and improve motion. My doctor prescribed physical therapy for my shoulder. I had had pain in my arm for almost six months before I saw my doctor. Before trying the physical therapy, I decided to stop wearing my extremely heavy shoulder bag on my left shoulder. Within weeks, my pain was almost completely gone. I could close my bras without suffering excruciating pain. I stopped wearing a shoulder bag and switched to a hand-held purse.
Often physical exercises are also added later to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint. Generally, this means lifting weights. Most importantly, you should try and identify the cause or aggravating factor of your injury, as I did with my shoulder bag.