St. Clair, Shoulder Injuries, And You – Understanding Shoulder Care

Chances are that you, or someone you know have dealt with a shoulder injury at some point in your lifetime. Complaints related to issues with the shoulder are among the top five reasons that Americans visit their primary care physicians. That means the chances are good that one day, you’ll also visit a doctor due to shoulder problems.

Unfortunately, by the very nature of our trusty shoulders, this part of the human body is particularly prone to injury. Why? How? Let us take a closer look at the often underappreciated joint that makes the human shoulder possible.

The Anatomy Of The Shoulder

Think of all that your shoulders enable you to do. You can lift a baby. Swing a tennis racket. Embrace a loved one. Put a star up on your Christmas tree. Twirl a Terrible Towel. Just to name a few things!

Our shoulders are the reason our arms can move in so many directions, including up, down, and behind our backs. This is all possible thanks to a unique anatomy that distinguishes shoulders from every other joint in the human body. Our shoulders are composed of three bones:

  • the humerus, or upper arm bone
  • the clavicle, or collarbone
  • the scapula, or shoulder blade

These three bones fit together in what is known as a ball and socket joint. This is the same type of joint found in our hip bones. Unlike our hips, though, the socket of the shoulder is small and shallow. Because of this, the humerus bone only partially fits into the socket. Picture the way that a golf ball sits atop the tee, and turn that image on its side – and you have a picture of the shoulder’s joint socket.

This anatomical arrangement is what allows for the shoulder’s amazing range of motion. However, this structure also demands more support from surrounding tissues. That’s where the rotator cuff comes in. The rotator cuff, a group of four tendons and muscles that resemble the cuff of a shirt, stabilizes the shoulder. It has the job of holding those shoulder bones together, and is responsible for keeping the head of the humerus in the socket.

Shoulder care at St. Clair Hospital is a crucial part of our care.

Together, these pieces create a wonderful mechanism for a very underappreciated part of the human body. When injured, however, we tend to quickly realize just how much appreciation we failed to give our shoulder joints.

Common Shoulder Injuries (And Why They Happen)

As we said earlier, shoulder injuries are exceptionally common, simply because the same structure that gives the shoulder its mobility makes it very vulnerable to injury and to wear-and-tear degeneration. And since the shoulder is in almost constant motion during our waking hours, there’s ample opportunity for damage.

Patients are likely to experience arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, partial and complete tears, and traumatic injuries in their shoulder joint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 8 million people will visit emergency rooms each year with shoulder injuries, often the result of common, everyday activities that place stress on the shoulder joint. This can include yoga, sports, or any activities where one lifts their arms above their heads frequently and regularly.

Shoulder Care At St. Clair Hospital

Even though the many causes of shoulder injuries may appear to be overwhelming, St. Clair Hospital staff are not strangers to the effects of shoulder injuries. In fact, one of our orthopedic surgeon’s, Patrick J. McMahon, M.D., specializes in restoring strength, flexibility and function to patients’ ailing shoulders.

Patients will often come to us suffering from rotator cuff injuries, especially when these patients are over the age of 60. Many people deal with shoulder pain that comes and goes, and so they shrug their pain off as “something that happens.” This outlook delays treatment, and even allows the injury to worsen – all because a patient could not  identify a source and cause of the pain.

Dr. McMahon has very simple advice to anyone in this predicament:

“Don’t dismiss aches and pains. If you have a tear … without treatment, a cycle of inflammation and re-injury may develop and lead to worse problems down the road.”

The good news is that shoulder pain is often very treatable.  There are even a number of injuries that are likely to heal on their own, in which case we will focus on at-home exercises and therapies that allow patients to work on preventing future issues. A small handful of cases may require surgery.

Fortunately, advances in orthopedic surgical technology, medical science, and diagnostic imaging have propelled shoulder surgery forward to a new era, with innovative, dynamic surgeons like Dr. McMahon leading the way. Improvements in pain management and more focused physical therapy modalities are part of this progress. Patients experiencing shoulder pain and dysfunction can rest assured that there are solutions, both medical and surgical, that will relieve their pain, improve their strength and mobility, and restore their quality of life.

To learn more about the shoulder, the injuries it may sustain, and about the work Dr. McMahon and our staff carries out when treating common shoulder issues, be sure to download our Winter 2016 edition of HouseCall Magazine. You won’t want to miss this leading story in our first publication of the year!