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Understanding Your Pain

Shoulder Pain & Injury

Shoulder Pain

Two main bones make up your shoulder: the humerus and the scapula (shoulder blade). They're joined together by muscles and tendons in the glenohumeral cavity, and stabilized by a ring of fibrous cartilage called the labrum. Tendons also join the bones to surrounding muscles (e.g., the bicep tendon attaches the bicep) to further stabilize the joint. Four short muscles originate on the scapula and pass around the shoulder where their tendons come together to form the rotator cuff. All of these components work in unison to allow you to reach, lift, throw, etc.

Usually, shoulder problems involve the soft tissues, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, not the humerus or scapula. These problems can be the result of repetitive motion (due to age and/or vocation) that literally wears out certain components or the result of an injury that strains or tears a component.

Issues with your shoulders' support system can also result in instability and eventual dislocation (when a bone moves out of its normal place in a joint). This is particularly common during an accident, when sudden impact forces a bone out of out of position. Once compromised, recurring dislocations can be common without proper medical attention. This can range from a partial dislocation that causes discomfort to a complete dislocation that renders the arm useless until a medical professional returns the bone to the joint and the tendons and ligaments have time to heal.

When to Seek Help

If you're experiencing pain (especially with overhead reaching, lifting and extension), restricted or painful range of motion, anterior pain (front of shoulder) it's a good idea to speak with a board-certified physician—before the condition gets worse. If the pain and/or limited motion persists for more than three months, it's considered chronic and you should consult with a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) specialist right away.

Before discussing your symptoms with a doctor, it may be helpful to review some common conditions.

Why Should I See a Physiatrist?

Physiatrists are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal pain and injury because it's the focus of their education and training. Physiatrists complete four years of medical school, plus an additional four years of residency training, and many go on to complete fellowships in various specialties. In order to become a board-certified physiatrist, physicians must then pass comprehensive tests (oral and written) administered by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPM&R) or the American Osteopathic Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AOBPM&R). Physiatrists will assess your condition, needs and expectations thoroughly and develop a tailor-made treatment regimen.

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TOP 10 REASONS to Visit a Physiatrist

  • 1. Physiatry is a medical specialty
  • 2. Physiatrists are medical doctors (M.D.s and D.O.s)
  • 3. Physiatrists treat the whole person, not just a condition
  • 4. Physiatrists use the latest treatments and modalities
  • 5. No problem is ever too small or too big for a physiatrist
  • 6. Physiatry treatment is highly individualized to meet the specific needs of the patient
  • 7. Physiatry can often help people avoid surgery
  • 8. The physiatrist's job is restore as much function and independence as possible—to put the pieces of people's lives back together
  • 9. The physiatrist works with a team of health care professionals that includes physicians of other medical specialties, and therapists
  • 10. Physiatrists can help with acute and chronic pain management issues