Your Shoulder And Your Options

W. Christopher Patton, MD

Do you have a nagging shoulder injury and aren’t quite sure what to do about it? If you do, you’re not alone. There are dozens of shoulder ailments you could be experiencing, each caused by a different set of circumstances. In fact, there are over 50 diagnostic tests that specialists can use to determine a course of treatment for shoulder pain.

According to Dr. Christopher Patton of Alabama Orthopaedic Clinics, the age of the patient as well as the duration of the symptoms are the primary factors used to determine what is most likely the source of your discomfort. For instance, many younger athletes often experience repetitive overuse injuries to their shoulders. Activities like pitching a baseball can result in the swelling of the tendons of the four shoulder muscles that form the rotator cuff. This can lead to a painful condition called bursitis, an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs called bursa that surround the shoulder.

Other individuals may be predisposed to develop shoulder problems later in life. Dr. Patton notes that people who have subtle instability in their shoulder often develop rotator cuff tendonitis, which increases the likelihood that they will experience a tear in their rotator cuff later in life. “A rotator cuff tear often manifests itself as pain with overhead activities, weakness in the arm whenever the person tries to reach away from his body to lift an object and commonly, night pain. Shoulder pain that wakes you up at night, especially if you are over forty, may be a symptom of rotator cuff tear.” Dr. Patton explains.

Dr Patton is quick to point out that violent trauma, such as an automobile accident, can result in rotator cuff tears, fractures, dislocations and bicep tendon injuries in all age groups. If you experience a sudden onset of pain, numbness or inability to move your arm after a traumatic event, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. It is also important to remember that neck injuries commonly cause pain or weakness in the shoulders and / or arms. Careful examination of the neck is an important part of the evaluation of shoulder conditions.

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain that you can’t attribute to a particular event, Dr. Patton recommends that you avoid any activity that causes pain. If the pain has slowly been getting worse over time, a regimen of ice and an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory may ease the pain. However, if the pain has progressed to the point where it is difficult to get a good night’s sleep or fever and chills accompany swelling, you should seek medical attention.

Oftentimes, your shoulder condition can be treated without surgery. Cortisone injections are commonly used to treat inflammation. Should your shoulder require surgery, recent advancements now allow many procedures to be performed on an outpatient basis. Of course, physical therapy will most likely be prescribed either as a primary treatment or as a post-operative rehabilitation.

The amount of time needed for recovery after surgery depends largely on what type of injury or condition is present and what surgical procedure was performed. According to Dr. Patton, certain arthroscopic procedures may have recovery times of only a few weeks while other more extensive procedures such as total joint replacement or instability repairs may take months.

Dr. Patton feels there are several important factors to consider when deciding whether to have shoulder surgery. The first is the nature of the injury and the expectations of the patient. Secondly and precious physical therapy or prior surgeries should be considered. “The overall health and medical condition of the patient is an important consideration in determining if the risks of surgery outweigh the expected gain in function or reduction of pain.” Dr. Patton notes.

So if that old “trick shoulder” won’t stop acting up or the pain is preventing you from being as active as you would like, maybe it’s time to visit your doctor to find out what options are available to you to help you live a more comfortable life. Springhill Memorial Hospital offers the latest diagnostic and surgical procedures. And new rehabilitation facilities as Springhill provide stat-of-the-art regimens to help you fully recover.