Why do so many of us have shoulder pains and how can we treat them?

Science and Health

Shoulders are a rather sensitive body part, and anyone who has gone a little overboard with fitness training and paid for it with intense pain knows this. But beyond inflammation, this body part causes several other problems. 

Prof. Eran Meman, director of the shoulder surgery unit at the orthopedic division in Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, was a guest on the “Expert Clinic” podcast to explain which shoulder injuries are common and how to deal with them.

Prof. Meman said that problems with the shoulder are very common, and explained that the shoulder is one of the more complex joints because it is the one with the largest range of motion, which is great but can also problems.

The complexity of the shoulder joint 

The shoulder joint is built in a leaf-like and crater-like shape, and is wrapped by a strong casing and held in place by straps that provide stability and prevent dislocation. The joint is activated by muscles and tendons that allow it maximum mobility in space.

Meman explained that the shoulder is a complex body part because it’s also connected to the scapula, or shoulder blade, and it moves, and it’s this connection that enables the great range of motion. Our neck also takes part in this complex work

Meman stated that an actual shoulder examination begins in the neck. The nerves that go from the neck to all limbs and the lower back and legs can be irritated as a result of a disk or a problem in the neck, so the person doesn’t know the origin of the pain. The shoulder hurts, the neck hurts but the brain can’t tell where the pain started.

Shoulder pain (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

The shoulder joint may be damaged by a wide variety of conditions, acute injuries and chronic inflammatory and degenerative diseases that will impair its function and cause pain, suffering and limitation of movement. 

Some of these problems can be solved with standard treatments such as anti-inflammatory and pain treatment or physical therapy, and if necessary with a variety of surgical treatments. In any case, if you feel a sharp pain or a pain that lasts for a long time in the shoulder area, go to a doctor.

Severity depends on age

To the question of what types of injuries he sees in his patients, Meman explained that to a large extent, it depends on age. He said that from ages 15-25, there are the common problems of people who play many sports, and then suffer an injury, not pain that progresses slowly. An injury can be a dislocated shoulder and the like; it’s an intense pain that makes it impossible to move the arm and you can actually see a change in the shape of the shoulder.

These people go to the emergency room and get the shoulder put back in place. He added that in movies, you sometimes see people putting their shoulders back in place by themselves, but that’s really not something you should try at home, and it’s important to seek immediate medical help.

Issues faced by the elderly

Older people have other problems. The cartilage is often injured as happens in a hip or knee joint, where the cartilage wears away and then the bone is exposed and this causes pain and restriction of movement, said Meman, or a tendon can rupture. 

Meman added that the most common problem in the shoulder at the age of 60 and over is related to the tendons because of the wear and tear of the body. In both cases, it’s highly recommended to do physical therapy to maintain the range of motion and reduce the pain.

To prevent shoulder pain during our daily routines, Meman has fairly simple advice. With computers, if the keyboard is high relative to the way we sit and work with our hands forward, it means that the tendons of the shoulder are constantly working. The very simple thing to do is to lower the keyboard and make sure that the joints are next to the body

This is true for many professionals. “Doctors who do ultrasounds, my colleagues, come to me in the morning with shoulder pain, and I simply tell them to lower the patient’s bed. This is also true for barbers, dentists, dentists – they work with their arms stretched forward, and this can cause pain.”