WHAT IS CHRONIC SHOULDER PAIN?
Any shoulder pain is known to be very uncomfortable and rough, but for shoulder pain to be considered chronic, the symptoms should be present for more than six months. Common symptoms are rotator cuff disorders that lead to sore tendons and shoulder muscles, adhesive capsulitis, instability and inflexibility of the shoulder, and arthritis. Each one of these conditions could lead to either a partial or a complete tear in the tendon leading to different pain levels.
Shoulders are mostly a part of the body that people don’t think about much, until they suddenly start experiencing pain. This chronic pain will make everyday chores, such as combing your hair and carrying your bag, almost impossible.
However, this pain is very common and as a person ages, it becomes more common and likely to occur because of the overuse of the shoulders and arms. The pain might start as mild and gradually increase until it reaches the point of an excruciating pain. Even though it is common, it should not be seen as normal and should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
A study was done in 2007 showing the reoccurrence of chronic shoulder pain as the person grows older. The results are shown in the graph below.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU EXPERIENCE CHRONIC SHOULDER PAIN?
After experiencing chronic shoulder pain, the first step is always checking in with a healthcare professional who will be able to give a precise diagnosis. However, at times, the main cause is very hard to track because the source of the pain could be radiating from a different body part, like the neck or the back for instance. But even in this case, seeing a doctor straight away is always the answer because they might run some extra tests like an ultrasound or an X-Ray to figure out the source of the pain and treat it before it becomes more chronic.
Mild shoulder pain could be treated easily through rest and some anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, stretching exercises can be very helpful in some cases. But, when the pain does not go away after a few weeks and it becomes more intense, it is considered chronic and needs more serious treatment methods.
WHAT ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE RELIEF METHODS FOR CHRONIC SHOULDER PAIN?
When shoulder pain begins, the first thing the person should do is changing their lifestyle and stopping all chores that might increase this pain. These are some home remedies to follow at home to decrease chronic shoulder pain:
- Taking Anti-inflammatory medication
Mostly, chronic shoulder pain is always accompanied with swelling and an infection, meaning one of the first treatment methods is taking anti-inflammatory medications after letting a doctor prescribe hem to you. To add, the main causes of chronic shoulder pain are rotator cuff injuries, arthritis, tendonitis, and other injuries, which are all based on the inflammation of the shoulder and should be treated using these types of medications.
- Using a cold compress:
Applying a cold compress, a frozen gel pack, ice cubes in a plastic bag, or even a bag of frozen peas to the injured area helps with decreasing the swelling and numbs the chronic pain. It should be done on a daily basis, up to five times a day for 20 minutes each time. Be careful not to apply a cold pack directly to the skin and by wrapping it in a towel instead, according to Healthline (2018).
- Using compression:
Wrapping any kind of bandage around the shoulder helps reduce any swelling and pain. It could be an elastic medical bandage or any wrap bought from a pharmacy. However, a professional should inform the patient on how to use it because if it is wrapped too tight, the blood flow will stop reaching the shoulder, and instead of fixing the problem it will become worse by adding to the swelling and making it more painful.
- Applying heat therapy:
Heat is very important for shoulder pains because it relaxes tense muscles and tendons and soothes the swelling and the pain. Heated gel packs, heating pads, or a hot water bottle could be used in this case and are highly recommended.
- Taking muscle relaxants:
Since chronic shoulder pains are mostly muscle pains and discomfort, then muscle relaxants are a very common treatment method to fix all muscle tension, spasms, and discomfort in the shoulder joint. They should be prescribed by a doctor because it is known to have side effects like drowsiness and nausea for example.
- Pain medication:
Pain medications are a must when suffering from chronic shoulder pain in order for the patient to relax a bit from this discomfort and be able to get some sleep. There are many medications that help cope with injuries such as aspirin. However, they could cause some side effects such as stomach pains and heartburns, meaning that they should not be taken without a proper diagnosis and doctor’s prescription. According to Healthline (2018), some topical pain-relief gels and creams have become more popular than medications since they do not cause any side effects and are as effective.
- Rest and activity modification:
One must alter their daily activities once they start to feel pain around the shoulder area. For instance, the shoulder should not be moved too much, and the patient should not be allowed to carry any heavy items. Resting also has shown to be very important in the healing process of the shoulder.
- Shoulder exercises and stretches:
Doing some shoulder exercises and stretching your muscles is a good way to lead to stronger and more flexible shoulders. However, heavy and intense exercises might lead to a more serious injury, causing more pain, which is why a professional should guide you through the acceptable exercises.
Before starting, it is very important to warm up. “Warm up, even before deep stretching. Light shoulder rolls, gentle movements, or even a warm shower are all ways to warm up your muscles before exercise and stretching.” (Healthline, 2018)
FROM CAUSE TO TREATMENT
Another way to find the best chronic shoulder pain relief is looking at the cause behind it.
Each treatment is given according to the cause of the shoulder pain, which is why we will be listing each cause and possible treatment for it:
Bursitis is a condition in the shoulders in which a person suffers from a dull aching pain in the shoulder joint that also leads to its swelling and tenderness. This type of pain does not happen when the person is resting and is only felt while during movement and pressure on the shoulder joint. To treat shoulder pain from bursitis, you should try resting; gently stretching the injured area, taking prescribed medications from anti-inflammatory ones to antibiotics. The last treatment option is undergoing surgery, but it is not common and not very recommended.
Suffering from tendinitis means suffering from an infection in the tendon. According to MedicalNewsToday (2020), rotator cuff tendinitis is the most common type of shoulder tendinitis, and it is very common, mostly in elderlies. The main cause behind tendinitis is overuse and age, which is why it is common for elderlies and athletes who constantly use their shoulders and arms. The treatment for this condition takes a lot of time, but it can heal. Resting and modifying normal activities are the key to start the healing process, accompanied by anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or undergoing surgery if needed.
- Tendon tear:
A tendon tear has two main causes. It is either because of age and overuse or because of an intense injury. It could be either a partial tear or a full tear. And the way to treat it is rest, applying ice to decrease the swelling, taking anti-inflammatory and pain medications, receiving steroid injections, stretching and doing physical therapy, and finally undergoing surgery in extreme cases.
- Injury to the shoulder joint:
Injuries occur due to a dislocation or a fracture of the shoulder muscles, and it could be mild or severe. The treatment defers depending on the severity of the injury, but it varies mostly from rest to surgery in order to repair the torn ligaments.
- Nerve problems:
Nerve problems occur when the surrounding tissues, the bones, cartilage, and tendons start rubbing on the nerves and cause problems. To heal this pain, one must undergo physical therapy or surgery. And sometimes it could be solved with only pain-relieving medications and rest.
“Two types of arthritis may affect the shoulder and other joints in the body: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.” (MedicalNewsToday, 2020) To treat arthritis, resting and receiving corticosteroid injections into the joint are usually recommended, accompanied with some light exercises and physical therapy. In rare cases, joint replacement surgery might also be recommended.
Tumors are a rare, but possible, cause of chronic shoulder pain. It could be either benign or cancerous and it is a result of a wrong structure growth in the shoulder. The treatment differs whether the tumor is cancerous or not. If it is, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both are needed to treat it. And if it isn’t, no treatment is needed and mostly heals on its own.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from pain, call us today at (469) 545-9983.