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Treating Shoulder Pain

What are the Causes of Shoulder Pain? 

Shoulder pain is an extremely common complaint and can affect all ages, and there are many common causes of this problem. The human body is able to move and flex thanks to our joints. There are several kinds of joints, all of which permit a certain range of motion. Our shoulder joint is the most movable joint in the body, allowing the arms an amazing degree of movement, but the shoulder can also often be problematic. What are the causes of shoulder pain, and what can be done to treat them?

Shoulder Physics

The shoulder is composed of three elements: the humerus (upper arm bone), the clavicle (collarbone) and the scapula, or shoulder blade. These three, along with various ligaments, tendons and muscles, allow us to move our arms. The shoulder’s joint structure is a combination of a ball-and-socket joint and a stationary joint along the collarbone, which allows for an almost 360-degree range of motion. However, it has a basic instability in that it can permit too much motion, resulting in strains, damage to the joint structure or muscle/ligaments, or even dislocation.

Injury and Trauma

The most common causes of shoulder pain are injury and trauma. 'Tennis shoulder' is a frequent complaint of those who rely heavily and repetitively on the rotation of their shoulder in work or play. The most common complaint is damage to the rotator cuff, which is a group of tendons that hold the bones in place and keep the joint from over-extending. Rotator cuff injuries, torn or strained menisci (tendons), herniated bursae (small pads between the joints), and others can be relieved by applying cold and heat packs alternately, and anti-inflammatory medicines.

Rotator cuff tears are also common, but more so in people over the age of 60. The tears are usually where the tendon attaches to the bone. Some tears are minor and treated conservatively, while others are so severe that surgery is required.  Bursitis is a painful condition of the fluid-filled sac that cushions the shoulder joint. When this sac becomes inflamed, the pain can be excruciating. In the most severe of cases, a shot of steroids may be necessary to reduce the inflammation.

Adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder is a very painful condition. A frozen shoulder can develop from any underlying condition of the shoulder. People who suffer from this type of condition often favour the affected shoulder, but that can actually make this condition worse. A structured treatment program of rest, physical therapy, and heat therapy offers the best chance of a full recovery.

Dislocation and Separation

Dislocation occurs when the shoulder is pushed or flexed backward suddenly. The supporting muscles and tendons are unable to keep the “ball” part of the ball and socket joint (the knobby top end of the humerus bone) from slipping out of the “socket”, sometimes separating from the joint altogether. This extremely painful and often chronic condition is best treated with cold to diminish swelling and deep pain. The residual muscle soreness after the dislocation could benefit from heat therapy, but only under a doctor’s supervision.

Degenerative and Chronic Conditions

People who suffer multiple shoulder injuries or who have a structural anomaly of the joint can develop degenerative and chronic conditions. These causes of shoulder pain result in progressive degradation of the bony and soft-tissue components of the shoulder. Frozen shoulder/adhesive capsulitis, rotator cuff disease, arthritis and calcific bursitis are all examples of chronic shoulder conditions. Most require medical intervention in the form of drugs and surgery, but alternating heat packs with cold therapy can decrease pain and swelling and improve mobility.

Arthritis can also strike the shoulder joints. Osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease, is usually responsible. Arthritis can lead to pain, stiffness, decreased flexibility, and inflammation in the shoulder. Heat therapy is one of the best treatments for all types of arthritis pain.

Other Causes

Other causes of shoulder pain can originate outside of the shoulder itself. Shoulder pain can be an indication of incipient heart attack in some people, as well as angina, lung cancer, shingles and fibromyalgia. If someone experiences persistent shoulder pain even after having been cleared for a physical injury they should seek specialist care, as some of these conditions are serious, even lethal. Shoulder and back pain can also be attributed to poor posture, which stresses the structures of the joint. In these cases, apply a wheat bag or heated neck collar and correct bad posture.

The Benefits of Heat Therapy

There are many benefits of heat therapy when used to treat shoulder pain using a wheat bag or heat pad. First, it helps to improve the circulation of blood to the shoulder joint, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. This also helps to provide the muscles and other important components of this joint to heal faster, as the blood is full of oxygen and nutrients. Heat therapy also helps to relax these muscles and reduce stiffness. As the stiffness and pain subsides, flexibility is increased. Heat therapy can be difficult to use effectively on shoulder pain, so you will need to use a product that allows for the most contact on the affected area. A microwavable wheat bag gives shoulder pain sufferers the most flexibility amongst heat therapy treatments.

The causes of shoulder pain are as diverse as the function of the joint itself. By addressing the underlying cause of the pain, it will usually be cured, but for chronic conditions and during recovery the relief brought by a microwave heat pad or neck & shoulder collar can be a godsend.