If you have pain in your shoulder, it is wise not to try and self-diagnose; some shoulder pain can be referred from the neck or back. Make an appointment with a physiotherapist if the pain does not go away within a day or two.
If you are active and play sports regularly, you can sustain a rotator cuff injury. Tennis, golf and basketball players are particularly susceptible to this type of injury as they rely heavily on the shoulder muscles – imagine the muscle power needed to serve a tennis ball at the incredible speeds recorded at top level competition!
The force of such actions can also cause impingement, shoulder muscles swelling and pinching the nerves on top of the shoulder. This causes “electric shock” jolts of pain all the way down the arm to the elbow (sometimes past it). Pins and needles and numbness in the fingers can also happen. Any symptoms such as these should never be ignored as medical treatment may be necessary. Again, a physiotherapist is a good person to go to as he will refer you to a clinician if needs be.
The shoulder is a very mobile joint, but can be unstable. Some people’s shoulders dislocate very easily, as the shoulder socket is quite shallow. A fall onto the arm can also cause the humerus (upper arm bone) to slip out of the socket. If this happens to you, the pain will be considerable, the shoulder will look misshapen and you will not be able to move the arm out to the side. Medical attention is obviously paramount as an xray or MRI scan may be necessary, but a dislocated shoulder is quite easily put back in. The danger then is that it will happen again, as muscles may be damaged and ligaments torn, so shoulder therapy needs to include strengthening exercises and careful rehabilitation before a sporting activity is resumed. So many re-injuries are caused by trying to do too much too soon!
Treatment will involve the shoulder being immobilized for about one month with the arm in a sling. After that, gentle movements with the shoulder girdle kept still until mobility is regained. Exercises with light weights can then be introduced, building up to full functional fitness. The golden rule in this case is that if an exercise hurts – don’t do it!
The danger position for dislocation of the shoulder is when the arm is held out at shoulder level, elbow bent – as if you are about to return a high tennis serve. This is the point at which the joint is most vulnerable.
Athletes who rely on their shoulders in competition for throwing or racquet sports may require surgery to tighten the ligaments and muscles.
The type of therapy will depend on the injury itself, but with care and common sense, most shoulder injuries can be successfully rehabilitated.