Shoulder pain can be debilitating and frustrating to live with as it affects so much of what you do in daily life. It can have many different causes and can be confusing as the pain can appear to shift or move around. Shoulder pain can also lead to neck pain and headaches, and, if not addressed correctly, could lead to reduced movement within the affected joint. In this article we will look to discuss the most common types of shoulder pain that happen and what you can do about it.

Our shoulders’ are designed to enable us to have a wide range of different movements, but the trade-off for this ability to scratch our backs or reach for things means that the main shoulder joint, the gleno-humeral joint (GH Joint), is held in place by only four tendons, known as the rotator cuff and a ligament capsule. So if any of the muscles leading to those tendons become damaged or experience trauma, it will affect how the tendon holds its part of the joint.  Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain and can often take longer to heal, mainly because of the temptation to ignore the pain or injury, in the hope that it will get better by itself. Other causes of shoulder pain can be from the other smaller joints in the shoulder, the acromioclavicular joint (AC Joint) or the sternoclavicular joint (SC joint), which are either end of the collar bone. The AC joint is often damaged by sports trauma in contact sports and instability in either the AC joint or the SC joint can lead to pain and altered movement in the shoulder.

Another shoulder pain type is a “frozen shoulder”. Frozen shoulder or as it is medically known, adhesive capsulitis, is an extremely painful and long process. Adhesive capsulitis follows a set pattern as a condition, roughly in 3 stages of equal length. The first stage is strong pain that continues to increase as time goes on, with reduced movement as the pain increases. The second stage is mostly pain free, but the shoulder is unable to move, or greatly reduced in movement. The final stage is a gradual loosening of the joint and return to movement with some levels of discomfort. It is important to note however that a painful shoulder with some reduced movement is common and is unlikely to be adhesive capsulitis. If you are concerned about this condition, book in an assessment with a manual therapist.

When shoulder pain is present there is likely to be disruption in all of the structures around and connected to the shoulder, there will be inflammation, possibly some grinding or clicking within the joint, reduced movement or even discomfort when breathing. Without proper assessment it is difficult to diagnose what the issue may be and therefore the best option to treat it. Seeking treatment early on when experiencing shoulder pain, will mean that the chances of a speedy recovery are increased.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain then here is what we would recommend that you do:

First of all try to isolate which movements are the ones that are causing you pain, and then if you are able to, avoid those movements. By resting the shoulder and avoiding getting into further pain then you will be starting to help it to rest and begin to heal.

Ice. Ice. Ice. By keeping the part of the shoulder that you feel the pain in, cold, you are helping to reduce the inflammation in the area and aid the healing process. Use a bag of frozen peas or an ice pack and hold them onto the area for up to 20 minutes at a time. Just make sure you wrap them so to avoid freezer burn!

Anti-Inflammatory medication. In other words low level non-prescription medications such as Ibuprofen or Diclofenac will again help to fight inflammation and to give you relief from the worst of the pain. Speak to your GP or Pharmacist to see if they are right for you.

Finally, book an appointment to see a manual therapist. Shoulder pain rarely goes away without intervention and the earlier you come in for an assessment and diagnosis, the faster you can begin treatment and appropriate exercise and the quicker you will return to health.