If we had a nickel for every time we said the shoulder is one of the most complex joints . . . well, you know. We’d have an awful lot of nickels! But really, the shoulder has three bones, cartilage tissue, tendons, and ligaments. This joint connects to the upper arm bone, the shoulder blade, and the scapula. Oh, and we should also mention that this joint is used too many times a day to even try to count. The very structure of the shoulder joint makes it a vulnerable area of the body. Should a shoulder injury occur, the road to recovery may not be as straight as one may hope.
Countless shoulder injuries occur each year and for a wide variety of reasons. While many are mild and self-repair over time, other injuries will only get better through surgical intervention. The question is how one can tell the difference.
Types of Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain presents differently in all patients. The type of pain exhibited helps us understand the injury that may have occurred. Some of the common types of pain we see include:
- Pain when lifting or reaching. Whenever we reach overhead or in front of the body, the shoulder joint is involved. An injury often minimizes the ability to use the arms for such motions.
- Arm weakness. A significant shoulder injury can affect the nerves and muscles in the arm, causing a general sensation of weakness. This may coincide with pain upon movement.
- Radiating pain. Shoulder injuries may cause pain to shoot down the arm.
- Constant pain. Usually, pain occurs or worsens when the shoulder moves. However, if an injury is severe, pain may persist even when the shoulder is immobile. Constant shoulder pain inhibits normal day-to-day activities and may also disrupt sleep.
How do I know if I need shoulder surgery?
Fortunately, no patient is on their own to determine if they need surgery to treat shoulder pain. Usually, pain is treated conservatively with physical therapy, rest, ice and heat, and injections of cortisone to reduce inflammation. Shoulder surgery is only recommended when diagnostic tests suggest that there is no other alternative than to surgical repair or replace the joint.
We conduct a thorough consultation and examination of shoulder pain in order to reach an accurate diagnosis of the injury. Imaging helps us observe the bones, cartilage, and soft tissue of the joint, as well as an overall view of the joint space.
When joint repair is necessary, surgery can often be performed using arthroscopy. The minimally-invasive technique lowers surgical risks and shortens the recovery period for most patients.