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Shoulder pain is a common complaint affecting 18% to 26% of adults due to its extensive usage and range of motion compared to all the other joints. We use our shoulders to stretch, lift, pick things up, and perform several other activities. 


Hence, it is expected that the shoulders are prone to injuries and pain. Physical therapy effectively treats any type of shoulder pain and promotes shoulder pain relief, Anchorage, AK.


Anatomy of the Shoulder

The human shoulder comprises three bones – the upper arm bone termed humerus, the shoulder blade termed scapula, and the collarbone clavicle. 


A rounded socket present in the shoulder blade called the glenoid covers the head of the upper arm bone and gives the shoulder a wide range of motion. The arm bone centered in the shoulder socket is held together by the muscles and tendons.


Rotator cuff, made of muscles and tendons, attaches the head of the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade and surrounds the shoulder joint.


Different Types of Shoulder Pain

Now, we are going to see the different types of injuries and conditions that lead to shoulder pain and how physical therapy treats them.


1) Arthritis

Osteoarthritis condition in the shoulder is the inflammation of the shoulder joints. It is caused due to the wear and tear of the cartilage that acts as a cushion to prevent friction between the bones. As the cartilage breaks down, bones rub together, thus leading to joint degeneration. 


Even though osteoarthritis is more common in the hips and knee joints, the shoulder joints can also be affected. Growing older and being overweight increases the risk of osteoarthritis and is more common in women when compared to men.


Osteoarthritis in the shoulder causes stiffness in the joints, especially in the morning, pain during activity that is relieved by rest, tenderness to press the joint, swelling, and increased bone growth around the joint.


How Physical Therapy Helps?

Physical therapists evaluate the symptoms and location of the pain and also conduct a physical examination to analyze the shoulder movements. They will then come up with a specialized treatment plan to minimize symptoms, ease shoulder pain, and improve movements.


They suggest specific stretches and strengthening exercises to improve shoulder joint flexibility and endurance in the muscles. They perform manual therapy to induce relaxation, reduce inflammation and loosen the stiffened shoulder joints and muscles.


2) Rotator Cuff Tear

Rotator cuff tear is an injury that occurs due to a tear in the tendons, the tissues that connect muscles to bones around the shoulder joint. It can be caused by normal age-related wear and tear with degeneration of the tendon or due to acute injuries like a fall.


It is more common in people who repeatedly perform the same shoulder movements. The injury causes shoulder pain, arm weakness, pain with arm movements, the difficulty of shoulders to reach behind the back, and sleep disturbances.


Physical therapists suggest specific exercises to regain normal range of motion, flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination. Heat and ice therapy can reduce inflammation and pain in the shoulder joints. They also perform massage therapy to release scar tissue and loosen tight muscles, thus increasing shoulder range of motion and promoting shoulder pain relief.


When the rotator cuff injury is severe, and the patient underwent surgery, physical therapy rehabilitation after surgery would help faster healing and prevent further damage. Post-surgery, the rehabilitation plan may include exercises to strengthen shoulder muscles and improve range of motion, heat or cold therapy to reduce inflammation, manual therapy, and electrical stimulation.


3) Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is a condition that causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint due to immobilization of the shoulder for an extended period, maybe after surgery or an arm fracture.


The condition develops slowly and is characterized by three stages – freezing, frozen, and thawing stage. At the freezing stage, shoulder movement causes pain, and the patient experiences limited mobility. At the frozen stage, the pain may reduce, but the shoulder becomes stiff and more difficult to move. At the thawing stage, the shoulder’s range of motion starts to improve.


Initially, physical therapists perform a thorough evaluation of the symptoms to rule out other conditions that cause pain in the shoulder. They create a specific treatment program to improve the normal range of motion in order to perform daily activities with ease. 


The treatment during the freezing stage includes exercises and manual therapy to improve normal shoulder movements and heat or cold therapy to relax muscles. The treatment during the frozen stage includes stretches to promote flexibility, manual therapy to loosen up stiffened muscles, and strengthening exercises to enhance core muscle stability.


The treatment during the thawing stage includes stretching techniques, manual therapy, specific strengthening exercises, and addressing tasks that are required in daily lives.


Final Thoughts

Shoulder pain is common in many individuals and can be caused due to several injuries and conditions. Physical therapy can help find the underlying cause of pain in the shoulder and promote relief through various treatment methods and modalities.


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