women rubbing her back

Shoulders are important. This should go without saying, but, when thinking about it, shoulders are responsible for so much of our lives. It helps us lift things, helps us scratch our backs…if you didn’t have a shoulder, you wouldn’t even be able to eat in the morning.

The tiniest details of our lives can be dictated by shoulder movement. What happens when your shoulder starts hurting? When the pain starts, then those easy things we take for granted suddenly become a lot more precious. Even a small amount of shoulder pain can affect the biggest activities we do every day.

How Does the Shoulder Work?

In order to understand shoulder pain, it’s crucial to know about it. While your shoulder looks very simple, it’s actually an intensely complicated mechanism. With the shoulder, you can have the mobility to lift, to climb, and to even stand on your hands. It’s an articulating tool that changes the way humans rule the planet.

The shoulder is made of many parts. These parts can’t operate without the help of the other. If one part of the shoulder stops working, it can cause severe pain or even make the shoulder stop working properly. In order to treat shoulder pain right, it’s crucial to learn about the shoulder.

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Anatomical representation of shoulder muscles and bones

Bones

Bones provide support for the body. If it weren’t for bones, then the human body would be shapeless. Bones allow us to function the way we do. Additionally, the shape of the skeleton informs the way we function. If they were shaped any differently, then our body parts would operate differently.

The bones in the shoulder greatly inform the way the shoulder operates. In the shoulder, you have three: the upper arm bone (humerus), the collarbone (clavicle), and the shoulder blade (scapula).

The arm fits into a socket contained with the shoulder blade. The shoulder blade connects the arm with the collarbone. The structure of the collarbone allows for almost total movement of the arm. While the collarbone allows the arm to be supported, it is also suspending the arm. The shoulder blade is attached to the collarbone on the inside rather than at the edges of the clavicle. This creates space for the shoulder to rotate up, down, forward, and backward.

In addition to the three bones that comprise the primary shoulder, there are also two offshoot bones which assist in function. The acromion juts out from the shoulder blade. This bone serves to create a smooth, joint-like structure to help guide movement for lifting the arm above the head. The acromion also functions as a station for muscles to attach onto in the back. It acts as an anchor, allowing movement for shoulder muscles.

The coracoid process also acts as an anchor, but for different muscles than the acromion. It also juts out from the scapula and helps move and stabilize the shoulder.

Cartilage

Instead of the arm directly grinding into the shoulder blade, the cavity which it rests in is surrounded by two different types of cartilage. Cartilage is a hard, yet flexible, material that often coats joints in order to help give smooth movement. The shoulder contains average cartilage that can be found across the body in joint sockets.

The shoulder also contains a material called labrum. Labrum is a softer form of cartilage that is more fibrous. Labrum surrounds the upper part of the humerus; specifically, the part of the arm that fits into the shoulder blade. Labrum also helps cement the arm into the shoulder blade.

Ligaments

Ligaments are strands of tissue that connect cartilage and bone together. Without ligaments, the skeleton would fall apart. They keep the skeletal structure in place, but also allow movement.

The shoulder contains four major groups of ligaments.

  1. Glenohumeral Ligaments – These ligaments make sure your shoulder doesn’t dislocate.
  2. Coraco-acromial Ligament – This ligament connects the acromion to the coracoid.
  3. Coraco-clavicular Ligaments – This allows the shoulder to have the shape and functionality that it does. This igroup keeps the clavicle securely attached to the scapula.
  4. Transverse Humeral Ligament – This particular ligament holds a bicep tendon within the upper arm.

Muscles

Muscles are the driving force behind the body. They are able to contract, which creates movement. In the shoulder, the muscles allow for 360˚ movement in almost every direction.

Muscles can also be split up into multiple groups, including:

  1. Superficial Muscles – These are muscles that can be grouped on the outside of the shoulder, such as those found on the pectorals and the upper back.
  2. Deep Muscles – This group pertains to muscles found on the inside that affect the shoulder. This may include muscles found around the ribs and on the scapula
  3. Direct Muscles – This particular group of muscles are found on or in direct relation to the shoulder.

Businessman with shoulder pain looking at a computer monitor

Types of Shoulder Pain

Outside of typical aches and pains, there are numerous conditions out there that cause shoulder pain. Some of them are quite severe and others are just really annoying. In either case, there is no such thing as good shoulder pain.

One of the more common afflictions is shoulder dislocation. This occurs when the top of the arm dislodges itself from within the scapula. It can be outrageously painful, prohibiting upward movement in your arm. It can also hurt tremendously when fixed, but can be fixed easily.

A condition unique to the shoulder is a rotator cuff tear. This is when the direct muscles around the top of the arm rip. This can happen suddenly due to strenuous activity or simply worsen due to repeated usage.

Shoulder impingement is another condition unique to the shoulder area. This happens when the edge of the scapula presses on the deep muscles of the arm.

Additionally, conditions such as bursitis, tendonitis, gout, and multiple forms of arthritis can affect the shoulder. While not unique to the shoulder, they can affect the functionality of the area severely, causing potential impediment to everyday use of your arms.

Surgery room

How Can I Get Rid of Shoulder Pain?

As with many types of pain, the best and most immediate course of action is to cease any strenuous activity. Pain can be exacerbated by over-exertion. With a body part as intricately complex as the shoulder, the risks of higher damage are astronomical.

Additionally, applying cold temperatures and using anti-inflammatories are great short term solutions. Serious injuries require greater attention from the body, rerouting blood flow in the process. This creates inflammation, which creates large amounts of pain. Ice packs and ibuprofen are fantastic ways to reduce swelling, but do use caution and don’t overdo these methods.

In more intense cases, it is necessary to do cortisone injections to the affected area. This can reduce swelling greatly and also let the body heal without as much pain. Cortisone injections can be used especially for inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis, arthritis, and bursitis.

In very rare occasions, serious surgery is needed to correct shoulder conditions. This may involve a procedure known as arthroscopic surgery. Arthroscopic surgery involves making tiny incisions in the affected area, then repairing the area utilize small tubed tools. Still drastic, arthroscopic surgery is much less invasive and much friendlier for rehabilitation.

For most cases of shoulder pain, a steady regimen of physical therapy is recommended. Physical therapy can help strengthen the affected area through strategically placed exercise routines. Over time, the pain should lessen and the shoulder should get stronger.

There are a lot of benefits to this method. By using physical therapy, this should help prevent future flare-ups of shoulder pain by fixing the issue at the source without much outside aid. Additionally, those that undergo physical therapy are subject to serious education about how to fix their problem. They are given the tools to live a lifestyle that can hopefully avoid further instances that could cause pain.

Physical therapy also promotes pain management. In some instances, shoulder pain cannot be cured. Instead, physical therapists can create methods whereby clients can learn how to cope with pain better. While the pain may never be gone, those affected could live a better life with the proper pain management tools.

How Can BioMotion Help My Shoulder Pain?

Woman going through physical therapy
While BioMotion is in the business of physical therapy, we never treat physical therapy as a business. When you walk through our doors, you are a part of the BioMotion family. We never treat you just as a client. We treat you like family.

What does this mean? It means we give you the attention that you specifically need. We never craft rehabilitation methods the same twice. Each person is different. What you need is different from what another person can do. We acknowledge that difference and craft your therapy to your needs.

We also know the challenge of facing pain head on. Overcoming pain can be the hardest thing a person faces in their life. We know that. We take your struggle home and want to help you overcome the hurt.

BioMotion also wants to give you the tools to take charge of your life. The only way you’ll improve permanently is through knowledge. We like to work with our clients to inform them of the exact methods we use to help them. By educating them, we are helping people by giving them the tools to overcome and prevent more pain from occurring.

No one likes having shoulder pain. It can be treated, but it’s rarely pleasant to power through. The only way that you can get past the pain is to go through your pain. BioMotion has the strategies available to help you get there. We can help you get through this.