Did you wake up with a little bit of shoulder pain? Maybe you decided to sleep on the couch last night, or are an active sleeper who likes to spread out as wide as possible. You may have even thrown out your arm and shoulder throwing a baseball or football. No matter the cause, if you’re looking for relief from mild – or even severe, chronic shoulder pain, you’ve come to the right place.
About the Shoulder
The shoulder is an incredibly intricate part of the human body which can easily be stressed due to its frequent usage, even when you wouldn’t think about it. As a matter of fact, most people forget just how often the shoulder is in use until they have shoulder pain!
Unlike many other parts of the body, the shoulder is capable of dynamic movement of nearly 360 degrees – something that many other parts of the body struggle with (or just flat-out aren’t designed to do). This is because it is a ball-and-socket joint that works with your rotator cuff, which allows for free range of motion. It also experiences a lot of torque as a result of common actions like lifting or throwing things.
Finally, the shoulder and neck area are susceptible to feeling the effects of muscle tension from anxiety, leading to a sore, achy feeling.
What Causes Shoulder Pain
The variety of reasons that your shoulder hurts Is expansive, spanning from muscle tension to full-blown muscle tears and dislocations. Shoulder pain may also originate from elsewhere, such as the neck or back, making it hard to diagnose the cause of the pain. Listed below you’ll find some of the most common causes of shoulder pain, and why they’re so uncomfortable.
When muscles are tensed and activated regularly, such as due to an anxiety response, they begin to fatigue. This can lead to soreness, but will not often lead to sharp pain so it is often ignored and forgotten over time.
Inflammation is one of the most common reasons for shoulder pain. The shoulder is composed of a number of tendons, protective sacs, nerves, muscles, and bones. With all these moving parts working together, sometimes frequent use leads to burst sacs or inflamed tendons that make moving uncomfortable due to sensitive nerves or a lack of cushioning.
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints that often gets worse with age. As you get older, you continue to use your shoulder regularly, causing wear and tear to begin to degrade the cushioning of the joint. This makes regular usage – especially dynamic movement – more difficult and often avoided.
Because the shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, it needs a point of “pivoting” to allow for its free range of motion. Sometimes, the “ball” of the humerus – the bone that connects your shoulder to your elbow – will “pop out.” This restricts the range of motion, and attempting to move it without the point of the pivot can cause pain because it damages the intricate ligaments and tendons that allow for movement.
Excessive torque on your shoulder can tear the muscle that connects your shoulder and arm. This can be from a sharp movement without proper stretchings, such as someone pulling your arm behind your back or throwing something.
The shoulder consists of primarily 3 bones. The clavicle runs from the top of your shoulder to your neck, the scapula is on the back side of your shoulder and rib cage, and the humerus is the main bone connecting your arm to your clavicle and scapula, creating the shoulder.
While the scapula is protected by the chest, it is not often broken. However, the other two bones are subject to breaks. This can happen from a fall, impact, sudden movement, or any other dynamic movement or impact. Car accidents and fights are two of the most common causes of a broken bone in the shoulder.
Depending on the specifics of the injury, you may find that different treatments work best in each situation. For example, you wouldn’t treat chronic pain the same way you would pain as a result of an injury!
Here are some of the most common forms of treatment, and when you may want to take advantage of them:
Stretching and Exercise
Along with rest, stretching and exercising the shoulder is a great way to remedy minor cases of shoulder pain. When your pain is a result of muscle tension, stretching helps to activate the blood flow to the area and will often make it feel better over time. You can also exercise it (as long as you do not have a sharp pain) to improve flexibility and help to avoid injuries in the future.
Stretches can also be done anywhere. If you are in a chair right now, put your hands behind your back, grasp towards your opposite shoulder blade with one arm, and pull that arm with your other arm until you feel like you are stretching. Then repeat it with your other arm.
If you have chronic aches in your shoulder, a deep tissue massage may help you. Massages dispel muscle tightness and tension, allowing for better blood circulation and greater flexibility. Plus, they feel great.
Heat or Cold
Heat is great for increasing blood flow to your shoulder, which helps combat achiness and stiffness. You can take a hot bath as a way to warm your whole body and feel the therapeutic effects.
If you have swelling or sharp pain, ice may be the better choice. Ice can numb the nerve receptors that are flaring up in the shoulder, and can also limit the inflammation that causes discomfort. Use an ice pack (in a towel!) for 15 minutes at a time until it begins to feel better.
If the at-home treatments don’t work for you, you may need medication. This can come in a variety of methods, such as steroid injections to stop inflammation and pain to taking Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve to receiving a prescription painkiller for extreme cases of pain. Obviously, at-home treatments should be considered first, but if you need more relief, your medicine cabinet may do the trick. Just be sure to check with a doctor if over-the-counter solutions don’t cut it.
In the case of breaks or tears, you may need reconstructive surgery. This is because you will need to realign the bone, repair the tissue that has torn, or reset the joint in order for it to function comfortably again. This is likely your last resort and should be done by a surgeon after consulting with your doctor.
Now that you know why your shoulder hurts and ways to solve it, you can hopefully take care of the pain yourself from home. If you just slept oddly or have been stressed and feel some tension, chances are some relaxing and a hot bath or shower will more than do the trick. If your symptoms are more severe, be sure to check with a doctor to help decide the best course of action.