Shoulder & Arm Pain

What Is Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain could be caused by a number of conditions: 

  • Rotator cuff problem - shoulder or upper arm pain, particularly when lifting the arm, lying on it or using the sore muscles

  • Acromioclavicular joint pain – painful joint on the tip of the shoulder where the collar bone and shoulder blade join

  • Frozen shoulder - is the painful and gradual stiffening of the shoulder capsule

  • Referred shoulder pain - pain is experienced in an area away from the actual injury or problem e.g. pain in shoulder which is usually referred from the neck or upper back

  • Osteoarthritis - progressive wearing away of the cartilage of the joint leading to the two bones of the joint rubbing together causing pain

  • Shoulder instability - dislocation or excessive movement of the shoulder joint

Rotator cuff pain

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles which help to control the movement of the shoulder's ball and socket joint. If this control is inadequate then the muscles can become stressed or squashed between two bones, causing pain in the shoulder or upper arm, particularly when lifting the arm, lying on it or using the sore muscles. 

People who work or do sports and/or hobbies that require putting their hands above shoulder height are the most likely candidates for rotator cuff problems. However, a shoulder injury, new or repetitive activity may also cause the condition to develop. Age also has an effect, with rotator cuff problems developing as you get older.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is the painful and gradual stiffening of the shoulder capsule (the tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint). Over time, this painful stiffening leads to sleep disturbance and limits your ability to use your arm for day-to-day activities.

The exact cause of the condition is unknown. For some reason, your body has an over reactive response to a minor injury and tries to heal your shoulder capsule with scar tissue. It affects one in 20 people and is more common in women than men. Most cases of frozen shoulder happen between the ages of 40 and 60. 

Frozen shoulder can be categorised into three phases:

  • Painful Phase

  • Stiffness Phase

  • Thawing Phase

Shoulder Instability

The shoulder is one of the most commonly dislocated joints. Shoulder instability means that the shoulder can dislocate (be pulled out of joint) or sublux (moves more than it should do) during day-to-day activities. Both dislocation and subluxation can happen for a variety of reasons.

How it happens affects the type of treatment you will receive. The three main causes of shoulder instability are:

  • Traumatic dislocation – where the shoulder undergoes an injury with enough force to pull the shoulder out of joint (eg. a violent tackle in rugby, or a fall onto an outstretched hand)

  • Non-traumatic dislocation –caused by repeated shoulder movements gradually stretching out the soft tissue cover around the joint causing the rotator cuff muscles to become weak

  • Positional non-traumatic – the ability to dislocate your shoulder without any form of trauma. This may start off as a party trick, but if repeated, it can happen during everyday activities

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder is the gradual wearing away of the cartilage of the joint. This leads to the two bones of the joint rubbing together causing pain.

Patients who have had previous trauma or shoulder surgery are most likely to develop osteoarthritis in later life. Symptoms include swelling, stiffness, aching and sharp, stabbing pains. 

Acromioclavicular Joint Pain

Acromioclavicular joint pain occurs where the collar bone meets the shoulder blade.

Pain in this joint can occur if you carry out a lot of activities that require you to lift your arms above your head.

Making changes to the amount of overhead activities you do can ease the pain.

Painkillers can manage the symptoms; If the pain is persistent you can seek advice and help from Oxford osteopaths.

Referred Shoulder Pain

Referred shoulder pain is when you experience pain away from the area that is actually injured or is causing a problem, e.g. pain in the shoulder which is usually referred from the neck or upper back.

At Oxford osteopaths we are skilled in assessing, diagnosing and treating a wide range of shoulder problems.