Shoulder Pain: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The shoulders are the junction points of several joints that combine with muscles and tendons, enabling a wide range of motion for the arm — from scratching the back and lifting things to swinging a bat and throwing a ball. However, this mobility comes with a disadvantage. It can lead to problems with impingement or instability of the bony structures or soft tissues of the shoulders, resulting in shoulder pain. The pain can be either continuous or only on shoulder movement. Additionally, the pain may be temporary (acute) or it may continue (chronic) and require medical diagnosis and treatment.

Possible Causes

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that allows wide movements, and this joint tends to be more vulnerable to injury. Pain in the shoulder can originate from one or more of the following causes: tendonitis from overuse of the joint, strains from overexertion, upper arm or collarbone fractures, instability in the shoulder joint, frozen shoulder, dislocation, and pinched nerves (radiculopathy).

Diagnosing Shoulder Pain

There are several ways by which shoulder pain is diagnosed in order to determine the most suitable treatment plan for the patient. The most common ones are:

1. X-rays: Plain x-rays can disclose the narrowing of the space between two spinal bones, slipped discs, tumors, arthritis-like symptoms, fractures, narrowing of the spinal canal, and instability of the spinal column.

2. Electrodiagnostic studies: Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) and electromyography (EMG) are sometimes used to diagnose neck and shoulder pain, numbness, arm pain, and tingling sensation.

3. MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging): This is a noninvasive procedure that shows the detail of neural or nerve-related sections.

4. CT Scanning/Myelography: This procedure is sometimes used in place of MRI.

Treating Shoulder Pain

Treatment for shoulder pain includes the use of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications, steroids (cortisones or corticosteroid), and NSIADS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Specific exercises are also suggested for patients in order to treat pain in their shoulder. In less serious cases, application of heating pads can help a lot. However, if spinal cord or nerve roots are involved, surgery may be necessary.