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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mitteness

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt?

The shoulder is one of the most elaborate joints in the human body. Proper function of the shoulder is fully dependent on a combination of sufficient strength, stability and mobility. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, which also makes it one of the most vulnerable. Although some shoulder injuries are acute or single event traumas (occur quickly; think falling or being hit) most shoulder complaints are chronic and multi dimensional due to the array of bones, ligaments and muscles that are critical for function.

The joints that compromise the shoulder include the sternoclavicular joint, acromioclavicular joint, glenohumeral joint and the scapulothoracic joint. The main muscles of the shoulder include the supraspinatus, infraspinats, teres minor, subscapularis, trapezius, serratus anterior, pectoralis, latissimus dorsi and deltoid. Between the muscles and bones are ligaments and tendons. The array of joints and muscles means many things can go wrong and a single diagnosis can be difficult. There is often more than one issue that comprises a shoulder complaint. On top of that, there is a natural imbalance of the stronger internal rotators and adductors (muscles on the front the of the shoulder) and the weaker external rotators and abductors (muscles on the back of the shoulder). This makes proper posture critical.

So, your shoulder hurts. What could be going on? Beyond a direct trauma, the most common shoulder injuries include nerve impingement, overuse, tendonitis or bursitis. Many of these lead to referred pain down the arm or up into the neck. Shoulder pain can also be referred from the spine or organs such as the gall bladder, diaphragm, lungs or heart.

When shoulder pain occurs, it is most often an issue that has been going on for a while without pain. Other than direct, single event trauma, pain is often the body’s last signal of dysfunction. This, combined with the constant use of the shoulder makes it a very difficult body part to rehab. Properly rehabilitated ligaments or tendons take a solid six months to heal. They take even longer when the area is continually being used. Rest, ice and rehab are critical when it comes to healing a shoulder injury.

Prevention and immediate treatment are your best options when it comes to proper shoulder function and healing. For athletes who use their shoulders a lot in sports like weight lifting, swimming or throwing or occupations that require overhead work, regular shoulder mobility is essential. The balance between flexibility and strength is critical when it comes to shoulder function.

Your shoulder probably hurts for a variety of reasons. Regular visits to your chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist or physiotherapist are great for rehabilitation or prevention of shoulder injuries.

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