Doc, My Shoulder Hurts

It’s been two or three months since your shoulder started to hurt. You’re not exactly sure when or why it started, but the pain is noticeable and ongoing. It feels similar to a deep toothache but it’s somewhere in your shoulder region—most likely on the side of your shoulder.

Simple, day-to-day tasks have become difficult because of your shoulder pain. It hurts when you try to reach up, when you try to grab something out of the back seat of your car, and/or when you try to sleep.  It feels like a pain that should go away, but it just won’t. So what is going on?

If this sounds at all familiar, you may want to make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist such as Richard J. Mitchell, MD, who practices with St. Clair Medical Group Orthopedic Surgery. Shoulder issues are one of the most common patient scenarios Dr. Mitchell sees every day since that is his focus area.

“The unique and complex anatomy of the shoulder makes it the joint with the greatest range of motion yet the least stability, making it more susceptible to strain, repetitive injuries, and aging than other joints,” says Dr. Mitchell. “There are several conditions that cause discomfort, but you can only identify what’s wrong and how to care for your shoulder by seeing a physician.”

First, a series of X-rays will be performed to quickly show if the joint itself is okay or has significant arthritis. If it is arthritic, then perhaps a shoulder replacement might be considered—but that is a last resort. If it is not arthritic, Dr. Mitchell shares that the X-rays and patient history often point to rotator cuff disease.

“The rotator cuff is a set of four muscles and tendons that originate from the shoulder blade and attach to the top of the arm bone, called the humerus, in the front, on top, and in the back,” explains Dr. Mitchell. “Together, they constantly work to keep the ball in the center of the shoulder socket—just like a door hinge does—regardless of what position the arm is in. In so doing, the rotator cuff is considered a ‘dynamic stabilizer’ of the shoulder since the muscles of the cuff actively centralize the shoulder. “

Unfortunately, the rotator cuff tendons can wear out with time and cause shoulder issues. The most common rotator cuff tears do not come from any specific injuries but rather from simple wear and tear, which is why patients usually can’t remember how and when their pain started. While numerous tears can become quite large and sometimes unrepairable if left untreated, Dr. Mitchell has found that most patients experiencing shoulder pain typically do not require surgery as their issues are more minor.

“Most patients do not have real tears, and it’s important to remember that not all tears need surgery,” Dr. Mitchell adds. “I see a lot of inflammation of the cuff tendons and the bursa that sits on top of the tendons or a partial tear, all of which are amenable to anti-inflammatories such as prescription drugs, ice, an injection, and/or physical therapy.”

Though it’s common for older adults and serious athletes to experience joint problems, everyone is at risk when it comes to the shoulder. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, four million Americans annually suffer shoulder problems. In fact, almost everyone will experience some kind of shoulder issue between the ages of 18 and 88.

Whatever your age or shoulder issue, don’t hesitate to call St. Clair Medical Group Orthopedic Surgery at 412.942.7262 if your pain is impacting your daily life. Dr. Mitchell and his physician colleagues treat a variety of issues at offices located in the Peters Township Outpatient Center and Dunlap Family Outpatient Center.

They are leading experts in their field, providing a full range of orthopedic services including fracture care, sports medicine, total joint replacement, hand and upper extremity surgery, and shoulder care. They will help to ease pain and restore range of motion so patients like you can get back to feeling like your Personal. Best. and can return to normal activities.