What Everyone Should Know About Shoulder Pain

In Neck Pain, Physical Therapy, Shoulder Pain by Seth Peterson, Physical Therapist Oro Valley

If you’ve ever had shoulder pain, and I have, you know how it can ruin your day.  It can stop you from sleeping, brushing your teeth, showering, putting on clothes, drinking coffee, driving, working, exercising, and on again.  Shoulder pain is one of the most common things seen in physical therapy, but one that few people truly understand.  My hope with this blog post and infographic is to improve the knowledge and understanding of shoulder pain.

Of course, not all shoulder pain is created equal.  If you have shoulder pain, there are many different conditions that can cause it. When thinking about shoulder pain, you might think of the rotator cuff, which might lead your mind to thinking about rotator cuff surgery. Maybe you know someone who has had rotator cuff surgery or someone who has been disabled by rotator cuff problems.

But did you know…

  1. The “rotator cuff” is a group of 4 small muscles near the shoulder that help rotate the head of the humerus in its socket. They also help stabilize your shoulder.
  2. The most often torn of the 4 rotator cuff muscles is called “supraspinatus.” Interestingly, there is debate about why it develops tears so often. Historically, scientists and doctors thought this muscle was being “pinched” under the acromion (a bone in your shoulder that can develop spurring). However, recent evidence has called this into question, and many researchers in the shoulder now believe supraspinatus tears are “tensile failure” tears. This means, like tears in other muscles and tendons, you asked it to do too much too soon and it couldn’t handle it.
  3. You’re not alone. Rotator cuff tears are very common in people without any shoulder pain. One study showed 40% of pain-free overhead athletes had rotator cuff tears show up on an MRI.
  4. The neck can actually refer pain to the shoulder. Although it sounds unusual, this actually happens often. If you have pain in the shoulder blade area, shoulder pain that changes with movements of your neck, or numbness and tingling, your shoulder pain might actually be coming from your neck! The best way to tell if this is the case is to have a thorough evaluation of your neck and shoulder.
  5. Despite most people thinking of surgery when they think of rotator cuff tears, physical therapy actually works just as well as surgery! Check out the infographic below for a couple of the many studies that have had this finding. When you consider the risks and the recovery time after surgery (being in a sling for 6 weeks and sleeping in a recliner), it seems like a no-brainer to try physical therapy for a while before going under the knife.
  6. Rotator cuff tears after surgery are very common, somewhere between 20-60%! This is the interesting part, though: most patients get better after surgery. This means that some patients have torn the rotator cuff a second time and have no consequences. I’m biased, but I think their ability to cope might have something to do with the 6 months of physical therapy…

The Infographic