Let’s face it. Every one of us is already so busy that adding another task to the chore list — like getting your shoulder pain checked out — is daunting. So even though you’ve noticed that your shoulder aches, pinches, or isn’t moving as fluidly it should, you’ve been ignoring the symptoms.
Don’t. Like that old adage “a stitch in time saves nine,” taking care of shoulder symptoms as soon as they appear prevents them from worsening and causing severe or even irreversible damage.
As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon practicing sports medicine in Sugar Land, Texas, and the Houston area, Dr. Steven E. Nolan, is an expert at treating both acute and chronic shoulder pain. Following are some symptoms that mean your shoulder’s been injured and needs evaluation and treatment.
Your shoulder feels stiff or sore
Maybe you just slept on your shoulder the wrong way. But if your shoulder stiffness persists for more than a day, you may have injured it while lifting, playing sports, or engaging in a repetitive activity.
A stiff shoulder may be caused by inflammation that arises when your body is trying to heal an injury. You could also be in the early stages of osteoarthritis — a chronic condition that’s caused when the protective cartilage on your bones erodes from overuse or when the joint lining becomes inflamed.
If your shoulder feels swollen, stiff, and painful, your tendency might be to use it less. However, over time, refraining from healthy shoulder movement could cause the soft tissues to stiffen and limit your range of motion.
Your shoulder hurts
Your shoulder is a complex ball-and-socket joint with a lot of anatomical features, any of which can become injured or inflamed. If your shoulder hurts when you try to accomplish everyday tasks, such as combing your hair or getting dressed, you may have:
- Tendinitis —inflamed tendons
- Tendon tears
- Bursitis — inflamed bursae (cushions between bones and soft tissues)
- Arthritis — eroded or inflamed joint linings
- Impingement — shoulder blade rubs against soft tissues and nerves
- Fracture — broken bone
Mild-to-moderate shoulder pain that limits your motion and doesn’t resolve in a day or two should be evaluated. Severe pain needs immediate medical attention.
You can’t move your arm or lift it over your head
When shoulder pain or stiffness limits your movements, you may not be able to perform your job or carry out everyday tasks, such as zipping up a dress behind your back. A “frozen shoulder” is often a sign of a rotator cuff tear or another injury that’s become inflamed and swollen.
The rotator cuff is a set of four muscles and their corresponding tendons that hold your shoulder in its joint and allow you a great range of motion. When caught early, rotator cuff tears can be healed with physical therapy and prescription medications. If your rotator cuff injury worsens, Dr. Nolan may need to repair it through minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.
You suffer shoulder pain at night
If pain in your shoulder prevents you from sleeping at night, you may have a rotator cuff tear or inflammation in one of your tendon sheaths. Tendon sheaths become inflamed when they don’t produce enough lubricant during motion. See Dr. Nolan for a shoulder pain evaluation.
Your shoulder or arm feels weak
You might have a rotator cuff tear or other injury. When the muscles or ligaments in your rotator cuff are torn or inflamed, your arm isn’t able to carry weight or lift. Muscle weakness may be a sign that your soft tissues are being impinged upon by your bones.
Your shoulder dislocates or looks deformed
A dislocation is when your upper arm bone (humerus) slips partially or completely out of the socket joint in your shoulder. A partial slippage is called a subluxation. Both subluxations and full dislocations can be extremely painful.
A dislocated shoulder may occur suddenly as a result of a swift movement during sports play or from a fall or collision. Or it may develop over time because your rotator cuff muscles and tendons have weakened due to overuse. Frequent shoulder dislocations raise your risk for osteoarthritis.
You have intense shoulder pain or sudden swelling
Intense pain in your shoulder, especially when accompanied by swelling or warmth, requires immediate medical attention. You may have torn your tendons or muscles, dislocated your shoulder, or fractured one of your shoulder bones.
Take care of your shoulders so they can take care of you. If you have acute, severe shoulder pain or mild-to-moderate shoulder pain that doesn’t resolve within a few days, contact Dr. Nolan. You can book a consultation by phoning up his friendly staff or using the online form.