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The Most Common Shoulder Injuries and Their Treatment Options

The Most Common Shoulder Injuries and Their Treatment Options

Unfortunately, shoulder injuries are most common in those who rely on their shoulders the most, such as overhead athletes—particularly those who participate in sports such as baseball, swimming, tennis, and football. 

Shoulder injuries also affect non-athletes. Professionals who frequently use their shoulders, such as those who work in painting, yard care, or construction, are also at a higher risk of injury.

When evaluating and treating shoulder injuries, board-certified orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon Matthew Pifer, MD, focuses on restoring shoulder function as quickly as possible. Here we discuss three of the most common shoulder injuries and how they’re treated. 

Shoulder instability

Shoulder instability happens when the shoulder muscles and ligaments stretch beyond normal limits. Certain motions used in sports like baseball cause shoulder instability in athletes. These motions apply a lot of force to the shoulder, stretching the ligaments over time. It can cause pain that comes on suddenly or gradually.

It’s critical to rest the shoulder and avoid aggravating activities when you have shoulder instability. If the pain is severe, Dr. Pifer may recommend a sling to provide temporary immobilization. 

Physical therapy range of motion exercises are helpful after the pain and swelling have subsided. As motion improves, the physical therapist may recommend strengthening exercises.

Ice packs applied to the shoulder before and after exercise can help reduce pain and swelling, as can NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen. 

Despite physical therapy, the shoulder may remain loose or unstable. Patients who experience instability only with certain activities, such as basketball or overhead racquet sports, may benefit from activity modification. 

There are various types of surgical approaches to stabilize the shoulder. Depending on the type of injury and the type of shoulder surgery, it may be performed with an arthroscope or through an incision in the skin. Shoulder arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique that allows your surgeon to evaluate and, in some cases, treat the source of your shoulder instability.

Shoulder impingement

Shoulder impingement happens when the shoulder muscles rub excessively against the top part of the shoulder blade, known as the acromion. This causes the shoulder bones to impinge on the tendons or bursae in the shoulder. 

Repeat overhead shoulder activity is a risk factor for shoulder impingement syndrome. Painting, lifting, swimming, tennis, and other overhead sports are some examples. Bone and joint abnormalities are also risk factors.

Pain from shoulder impingement is persistent and interferes with daily activities. Reaching up behind the back or reaching up overhead to put on a coat or blouse, for example, can be painful.

Impingement can cause inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons and bursa over time. The rotator cuff tendons can thin and tear if not properly treated.

Conservative measures such as physical therapy and pain relievers are commonly used in the initial treatment. Most patients benefit from physical therapy that focuses on stretching and strengthening the rotator cuff and scapular muscles.

Dr. Pifer may recommend shoulder impingement surgery for patients whose pain does not respond to conservative measures. 

The goal of the most common surgical treatment, subacromial decompression, a minimally invasive procedure, is to relieve compression on the rotator cuff and bursas by creating more space between the humeral head and the acromion. 

Rotator cuff injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of four upper arm muscles. They let you raise and rotate your arm. Tendons connect the muscles to the bones. The rotator cuff tendons allow the muscles to move the arm. When the tendons tear, the humerus becomes less mobile in the socket. This makes moving the arm up or away from the body difficult.

Tendons degenerate and lose strength with age. This deterioration can result in a rotator cuff tear. The majority of rotator cuff injuries occur in middle-aged or older adults who already have shoulder issues. They can also occur in younger people. 

Treatment is determined by the severity of the injury. Rotator cuff injuries caught early may respond well to conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and steroid injections. More severe rotator cuff injuries typically require surgery, which is done through a minimally invasive approach that allows Dr. Pifer to repair the tendons. 

You’re in capable hands when you choose to partner with Dr. Pifer in treating your shoulder injury and restoring shoulder function. For a thorough evaluation and treatment options, request an appointment at our Santa Barbara, California office via phone or online today. 

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