Shoulder Pain and Injuries: The Best Physical Therapy Methods

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Shoulder pain is a common ailment that affects 18% to 26% of individuals, but that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. Because the shoulder has the highest range of motion of any of our joints, shoulder pain and injuries are common and extremely inconvenient.

There are three main parts to the shoulder joint:

  • The humerus is a bone in the human body (the upper-arm bone)
  • Clavicle is a term used to describe a person (the collarbone)
  • Scapula is a type of capula (the shoulder blade)

These bones, which are held together by muscles, tendons, and ligaments, allow us to carry out our daily activities with ease. Because the shoulders are one of the most often utilized regions of the body, they are more susceptible to injury, which is why it’s critical to understand how to protect them as well as how to manage shoulder pain and injuries.

Treatment for Shoulder Pain Caused by Common Injuries

The first step in treating shoulder discomfort is to understand what’s causing it. Shoulders can be hurt by a variety of activities, even seemingly innocuous ones like sitting at a desk at work. Shoulder injuries can be cleanly separated into two categories: abrupt injuries and injuries caused by overuse.

Injuries that occur unexpectedly

Acute injuries, also known as sprains, can occur as a result of anything from tripping and landing on your shoulder to twisting the shoulder in an unnatural way. The following are examples of unexpected injuries:

  • Bruises
  • Dislocation
  • Muscle strain
  • Bone fractures
  • Nerve damage
  • Injured ligaments, which aid in the stability of the shoulder joint
  • Torn rotator cuff occurs when any of the four tendons that cover the shoulder joint is injured.
  • Tendon damage, which occurs when the tendons that connect the muscle to the bone are damaged.

You will most likely notice bruising or swelling right away after an acute shoulder injury, and you may experience tingling or numbness if the injury resulted in a pinched nerve or a damaged blood vessel.

Injuries caused by overuse

Overuse injuries are more dangerous than acute injuries because they develop gradually over time as a result of your daily activities. They are caused by excessive stress on the shoulder joint or surrounding tissue, and you may not even realize anything is wrong until you suddenly find yourself dealing with a bothersome shoulder pain. Overuse injuries can result in:

  • Strain on the muscles.
  • Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons.
  • Frozen shoulder is a condition in which your shoulder’s range of motion “freezes.”
  • Bursitis is an inflammation of the fluid sac that cushions and lubricates the shoulder joint.
  • Impingement syndrome occurs when overhead arm movements cause the tendons to rub against a part of the shoulder blade, causing inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons.

While acute and overuse injuries are the most common causes of shoulder pain, there are a less common injuries that can also affect your shoulder. These include:

  • Unusual posture
  • Herniated disk Osteoarthritis
  • Infection from calcium buildup

How Can Physical Therapy Help with Shoulder Pain and Injuries?

Physical therapy for shoulder pain is often a successful, non-surgical treatment for rotator cuff tears or other injuries to the muscles surrounding the shoulder. Its goal is to strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulder in order to improve its function and mobility.

To treat your shoulder pain, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist, who will examine your injury and determine the best course of treatment.

The treatment will be tailored to your specific needs in order to help you recover from your injury and regain your mobility. Your therapist may also advise you on how to modify your daily activities to better support your shoulders and avoid re-injury. You may also be given a personalized home exercise routine to help you maintain your mobility after your therapy sessions are finished.

In some cases, physical therapy can avoid the need for surgery, which is especially beneficial for older adults who may not have as good of a surgical success rate. According to studies, the majority of patients find physical therapy for shoulder injuries to be adequate, though recovery times vary from person to person. Even if surgery is unavoidable, physical therapy is an excellent way to prepare and strengthen the body before and after surgery.

Shoulder Pain Physical Therapy Treatments

Depending on the specifics of your injury, your physical therapist will most likely prescribe one or more of the following types of treatment:

RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) therapy encourages icing injured areas for acute injuries. It aids in the reduction of inflammation and swelling, which in turn aids in the reduction of pain.

Heat therapy: Unlike ice therapy, which is best used within the first 72 hours of an injury, heat therapy is best used after 72 hours. It, like ice therapy, relieves pain and allows muscles to relax.

Hands-on therapy: As the name suggests, hands-on therapy requires the assistance of a physical therapist to relax the injured shoulder. The physical therapist applies direction-specific pressure to the tissue with their hands to help it regain some of its natural mobility.

Stretching: Stretching is a common type of therapy for shoulder pain because it is designed to gently push your muscles further and further until your range of motion is restored. Depending on the injury, the physical therapist will most likely incorporate varying levels of stretches that may target parts of the shoulder as well as the neck and spine.

Strengthening: Strengthening is essentially another word for exercise because the physical therapist may recommend specific strengthening exercises to reduce pain at the injury site while also strengthening other muscles, such as your core. The goal is to leave you stronger than before the injury in order to prevent it from happening again.

Joint mobilization: Another type of therapy that requires the assistance of a physical therapist, joint mobilization aims to increase the mobility of the injured shoulder by stretching the joint capsule. It is only performed by a trained, professional physical therapist because it requires a thorough understanding of anatomy.

A therapeutic ultrasound: not to be confused with a diagnostic ultrasound — is a type of physical therapy for shoulder pain in which the muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue are subjected to a deep heating session. The heat increases circulation in the tissue, which both relieves pain and aids in the healing of the injury. Therapeutic ultrasounds can also help increase muscle elasticity, which allows muscles to stretch more easily and thus increase range of motion, especially in cases of frozen shoulder.

Electrical stimulation: Stimulating the nerves is one method of strengthening the muscles of the injured shoulder. It is sometimes used to contract muscles or reduce inflammation, but it can also be used to deliver medication.

Athletic taping: As part of your shoulder physical therapy, your physical therapist may choose to use athletic tape in conjunction with other methods of therapy, such as exercises.

Kinesiology taping: Unlike athletic taping, which aims to limit movement, kinesiology taping encourages movement while increasing circulation. The physical therapist may use one of these taping methods or neither, depending on the type of shoulder injury you have.

Workplace ergonomics: In this day and age, it’s nearly impossible for some people to spend more than eight hours a day sitting at their computer desk. Your physical therapist will most likely discuss ergonomics with you; the goal is to find ways to ensure your body receives the proper support it requires. This could include anything from performing specific exercises at your desk to purchasing a new office chair.

Home exercise program: The shoulder physical therapy exercises you do with your physical therapist will almost certainly need to be continued after your sessions are finished. The physical therapist will design a set of at-home exercises to help you maintain your progress. They will practice the exercises with you during sessions so that you are confident in your ability to perform them when you get home.

Which method do you intend to use to relieve shoulder pain? Post your thoughts in the comments section.