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Pain in the shoulder area is often indicative of an underlying problem or injury. Everything from poor posture to a broken bone can lead to pain in the area. Osteoarthritis and sporting injuries can also be responsible for chronic shoulder problems.
Shoulder pain is very common. Poor posture is often the cause, but there are other conditions which lead to chronic shoulder pain. Pain is often chronic, though correct diagnosis, physiotherapy and wearing a shoulder support can help manage the symptoms and treat the causes.
Frozen shoulder is a painful condition where movement of the shoulder joint is impeded or completely prevented. Disorders of the rotator cuff group of muscles and tendons which stabilise the shoulder joint can also contribute to shoulder pain. Hyper-mobility or instability of the shoulder joint, osteoarthritis of the joint and a fracture to the humerus or collar bone are some of the other causes.
Osteoarthritis can affect both the glenohumeral joint (the joint where the ball of the humerus fits into the shoulder socket) and the acromioclavicular joint at the top of the shoulder, and it normally occurs as a result of cartilage damage and swelling around the synovial tissues of the joint. Sporting injuries, including minor muscle tears or ligament sprains, can also lead to short-term and long-term shoulder problems. Occasionally, pain in the shoulder can be the result of a problem in the neck or the upper back.
Some pain in the shoulder region is the result of minor ailments such as poor posture and will improve of its own accord. Receiving the correct diagnosis early, however, is important, and a medical practitioner should be consulted if the pain results from an injury, if it is particularly painful or if the pain doesn't improve after two weeks of reduced activity.
Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help reduce shoulder pain, while application of an ice pack can reduce inflammation. Avoiding trigger activities will also help, and wearing a shoulder support will protect against further damage, but treatment of shoulder pain will depend largely on the cause of the pain.
Corticosteroids — painkillers which contain hormones — may be injected into the affected area. This will allow greater movement of the joint. Though it may not treat the underlying cause, it may help in the management of the pain and limited movement.
Following diagnosis, physiotherapy is often the first port of call. Stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as manual therapy, will help improve the health of the soft tissue surrounding the shoulder joint. In many cases it can reduce the need for surgery.
Shoulder pain can be a long-lasting problem, particularly if it is the result of osteoarthritis or hypermobility. Some patients have symptoms 18 months after the pain begins. In a small number of cases, surgery is required. Painkillers will help with pain, and wearing a shoulder support will help rest the joint and aid healing. However, it is important that the cause is correctly diagnosed and that any prescribed corrective strengthening exercise programme is followed.