Shoulder Health Facts

Sorting Out “Shoulder” Pain

The most common problems in the shoulder such as bursitis, rotator cuff tendinitis, and rotator cuff tears are typically felt on the side or front of the shoulder and send pain down the side or front of the arm. A lot of people ONLY feel the pain on the side of their arm. That still counts as shoulder pain. The pain is worse at night. It hurts to reach behind to put a coat on, and it hurts to lift weighted objects up in front of you, such as getting a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator. Reaching out to the side just to put something light, like a cup of coffee on a side table, can be painful. You may find your arm feels heavy or weak and you use the other hand to help lift it. It may feel better once it is up but it hurts coming down. These are RED FLAGS. They mean you need to have your shoulder checked as soon as possible.

Shoulder problems are sneaky. A small rotator cuff tear very often gets larger over time. A tear can gradually go from being small and easy to fix to being so large and pulled back(retracted) that it cannot be reattached and repaired. Also, people often do not notice as they are losing motion in their shoulder because they compensate by turning their bodies or using their other hand. It is just natural to keep your arm closer to your side when your shoulder hurts, but if you do not put your shoulder through its full range of motion everyday, it can get tighter and tighter and lead to a frozen shoulder. However, if your normal range of motion is painful, you need to see someone to figure out why, rather than just trying to force it. Listening to your body is a good thing.

Pain from arthritis of the ball and socket is more often felt deep and centrally, front and back, in the shoulder and is harder to point to. Range of motion of the shoulder may become very limited. You may notice a creaking or coarse catching feeling as you move.

Numbness of the arm or hand is typically not caused by shoulder problems. Numbness and tingling is a nerve problem. Numbness of the thumb, index or long fingers can be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a tight spot at the wrist. Numbness of the small and ring fingers can be caused by a tight spot at the elbow (cubital tunnel syndrome). In addition, numbness of any of your fingers can also be caused by a pinched nerve in your neck or problems with the nerves themselves. Numbness of the forearm, upper arm, shoulder or neck area are most often caused by a pinched nerve in the neck (also called cervical stenosis or cervical radiculopathy). Occasionally, if the ball of the shoulder does not stay centered in the socket, that can cause some numbness. This is more often seen in people who have had a dislocation of their shoulder or who are very loose jointed.

As you can see, shoulders are complicated. Having a doctor who listens, does a thorough exam, and orders the appropriate tests, and an office that helps you get those tests approved and scheduled in a timely way is critical to getting the right diagnosis and the right treatment. Early treatment gives you the best chance at a great recovery.