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Sharp Health News

6 signs it’s time to get help for shoulder pain

March 7, 2016

Shoulder pain

Do you have shoulder pain that keeps you awake at night? If so, you're not alone. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, shoulder pain is one of the most common physical complaints. In fact, Dr. Jonathan Myer, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, says that an estimated 25 percent of us will have a shoulder injury at some point in our lives.

Because it is a ball-and-socket joint made up of several moving parts (bones, tendons and muscles), your shoulder tends to be particularly vulnerable to injury. Contrary to popular belief, however, "an acute shoulder injury is not the most common cause of shoulder visits to the orthopedic surgeon," says Dr. Myer.

"Common causes include overuse and degenerative changes in tendon and cartilage that come with advancing age. These can cause tendinitis, tendon tears and arthritis. It's not uncommon to have a patient that has pre-existing degenerative disease who sustains a seemingly minor injury, which causes significant pain and disability. It is sort of like 'the straw that broke the camel's back,'" he says.

The good news is that the treatment options for shoulder pain — both non-operative and operative — are amazingly successful when accompanied by proper diagnosis, says Dr. Myer. So how do you know when it's time to see your doctor?

If you are experiencing low-grade pain, Dr. Myer says it may be appropriate to wait a few days to see how you respond to rest, ice, activity modification and over-the-counter medicines, if medically safe for you. Gradual onset shoulder problems are a little trickier, however. In general, if the problem is not responding to self-care and is affecting your activities over a few weeks or is worsening, then you should seek medical attention.

Also, if you answer yes to the majority of these questions, then it may be time to see your doctor:

  1. Does pain affect your ability to perform everyday activities?
  2. Does pain keep you awake at night or affect your sleep pattern?
  3. Does pain affect you emotionally (making you feel depressed or hopeless)?
  4. Does pain keep you from doing the things you love and affect your quality of life?
  5. Does pain affect your overall health by limiting your physical activities?
  6. Have you exhausted reasonable over-the-counter remedies to manage your discomfort?

After a thorough evaluation, your doctor may recommend further rest, activity modification, anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections and physical therapy. If these things fail to alleviate your symptoms, then surgery may be a good option, says Dr. Myer.

So don't let shoulder pain wear you down. With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can get back to doing the things you love, including getting a good night's sleep.

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of common shoulder problems, or attend an upcoming Treating Chronic Shoulder Pain seminar.

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