Helping shoulder pain with Physiotherapy

A painful shoulder can be treated with physiotherapy

The shoulder is one of the more complex joints of the human body and susceptible to many types of injury. Shoulders aren’t simple hinge joints that only straighten and bend in one direction, they are what is referred to as a ‘ball and socket’ joint. Shoulders are able to move in many directions and while this freedom gives the body great movement and flexibility it can also make it unstable and prone to a variety of injuries.

Shoulder pain can be commonly caused by a broken collar bone, dislocation, frozen shoulder, rotator cuff tendonitis/injury, bursitis or separation. Diagnosis of shoulder pain and effective treatment can be carried out by a trained physiotherapist. Physiotherapy is an ideal therapy for the variety of injuries that can cause shoulder pain.

Recognising shoulder pain and treating it with physiotherapy

As we have already discussed, the shoulder is a complicated joint. The shoulder’s stability is reliant mainly on the muscles. Surrounding the shoulder joint are powerful muscles including the pectoralis major, deltoids and latissimus dorsi. These muscles play a major role in providing strength and mobility when reaching up or lifting. Surrounding and protecting the shoulder joint are four smaller muscles called the rotator cuff. Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common types of shoulder injuries that cause shoulder pain.

How can you recognise a rotator cuff injury? Firstly, there will of course be the pain signals that something is wrong; you will also notice a stiffness and weakness in the shoulder. If there is a dull aching feeling at the top and front of the shoulder, or around the outside upper arm where the deltoids are, you may be suffering with shoulder impingement. Shoulder impingement occurs when the rotator cuff tendons get trapped between two bones (the humorous and acromion). This typically happens during activity where you are moving the arm over the head – tennis players, cricketers and weight lifters are susceptible to this injury. Over time, the tendons degenerate, inflammation can occur and a build up of fluid between the tendons and bone leads to something called ‘bursitis’.

There are a few factors that lead to injuries like rotator cuff tendonitis and impingement such as: overuse when unaccustomed to an activity, bad technique (particularly in sport), poor stability in the muscles, poor posture or a bone growth in the shoulder. With all injuries and pain there should be plenty of rest but physiotherapy should begin as soon as possible so the shoulder can be rehabilitated and strengthened.

Physiotherapy treating shoulder pain and injury

Physiotherapy’s initial aim during the early stages is to reduce inflammation and pain. A physiotherapist will employ a number of techniques to do this such as massage and ultrasound. With pain and inflammation around the shoulder reduced, the physio will begin to help the shoulder return to full movement using exercises and mobilisations. With this phase of your recovery over, physiotherapy will begin to help restore strength to the weakened muscles around the shoulder (paying attention to the rotator cuff muscles).

Once pain and inflammation are reduced, and strength has returned to the shoulder, you’ll be able to make a gradual return to your activity, work or sport. The physiotherapist will advise when this is safe to do so and at what level. The goal when using physiotherapy for shoulder pain is to treat the cause of the pain, strengthen the muscles that protect the shoulder from injury and correct any problems with posture or technique to prevent the condition reoccurring.

Article submitted by
Daniel Alexander, GoToSee Journalist

Date published
15/09/08


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