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Shoulder
 

Shoulder problems including pain, are one of the more common reasons for physician visits for musculoskeletal symptoms. The shoulder is the most movable joint in the body. However, it is an unstable joint because of the range of motion allowed. It is easily subject to injury because the ball of the upper arm is larger than the shoulder socket that holds it. To remain stable, the shoulder must be anchored by its muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Some shoulder problems arise from the disruption of these soft tissues as a result of injury or from overuse or underuse of the shoulder. Other problems arise from a degenerative process in which tissues break down and no longer function well.

Shoulder pain may be localized or may be referred to areas around the shoulder or down the arm. Disease within the body (such as disease of the cervical spine of the neck) also may generate pain that travels along nerves to the shoulder. Conversely, pain felt in the region of the shoulder blade or scapula nearly always has its origin in the neck.
 

The shoulder joint is composed of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the humerus (upper arm bone) (see diagram). Two joints facilitate shoulder movement. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is located between the acromion (part of the scapula that forms the highest point of the shoulder) and the clavicle. The glenohumeral joint, to which the term "shoulder joint" commonly refers, is a ball-and-socket joint that allows the arm to rotate in a circular fashion or to hinge out and up away from the body. The "ball" is the top, rounded portion of the upper arm bone or humerus; the "socket," or glenoid, is a dish-shaped part of the outer edge of the scapula into which the ball fits. Arm movement is further facilitated by the ability of the scapula itself to slide along the rib cage. The capsule is a soft tissue envelope that encircles the glenohumeral joint. It is lined by a thin, smooth synovial membrane.

The bones of the shoulder are held in place by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Tendons are tough cords of tissue that attach the shoulder muscles to bone and assist the muscles in moving the shoulder. Ligaments attach shoulder bones to each other, providing stability. For example, the front of the joint capsule is anchored by three glenohumeral ligaments.

The rotator cuff is a structure composed of tendons that, with associated muscles, holds the ball at the top of the humerus in the glenoid socket and provides mobility and strength to the shoulder joint.

Two filmy sac-like structures called bursae permit smooth gliding between bone, muscle, and tendon. They cushion and protect the rotator cuff from the bony arch of the acromion.

Conditions 

Tendinitis, Bursitis, Impingement syndrome, and Rotator cuff tears

These conditions are closely related and may occur alone or in combination. If the rotator cuff and bursa are irritated, inflamed, and swollen, they may become squeezed between the head of the humerus and the acromion. Repeated motion involving the arms, or the aging process involving shoulder motion over many years, may also irritate and wear down the tendons, muscles, and surrounding structures.

Tendinitis is inflammation (redness, soreness, and swelling) of a tendon. In tendinitis of the shoulder, the rotator cuff and/or biceps tendon become inflamed, usually as a result of being pinched by surrounding structures. The injury may vary from mild inflammation to involvement of most of the rotator cuff. When the rotator cuff tendon becomes inflamed and thickened, it may get trapped under the acromion. Squeezing of the rotator cuff is called impingement syndrome.

An inflamed bursa is called bursitis. Tendinitis and impingement syndrome are often accompanied by inflammation of the bursa sacs that protect the shoulder. Inflammation caused by a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis may cause rotator cuff tendinitis and bursitis. Sports involving overuse of the shoulder and occupations requiring frequent overhead reaching are other potential causes of irritation to the rotator cuff or bursa and may lead to inflammation and impingement.

Signs

Signs of these conditions include the slow onset of discomfort and pain in the upper shoulder or upper third of the arm and/or difficulty sleeping on the shoulder. Tendinitis and bursitis also cause pain when the arm is lifted away from the body or overhead. If tendinitis involves the biceps tendon (the tendon located in front of the shoulder that helps bend the elbow and turn the forearm), pain will occur in the front or side of the shoulder and may travel down to the elbow and forearm. Pain may also occur when the arm is forcefully pushed upward overhead.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of tendinitis and bursitis begins with a medical history and physical examination. X rays do not show tendons or the bursae but may be helpful in ruling out bony abnormalities or arthritis. The doctor may remove and test fluid from the inflamed area to rule out infection. Ultrasound scans are frequently used to confirm a suspected tendinitis or bursitis as well as rule out a tear in the rotator cuff muscles. Impingement syndrome may be confirmed when injection of a small amount of anesthetic (lidocaine hydrochloride) into the space under the acromion relieves pain.

Treatment

The first step in treating these conditions is to reduce pain and inflammation with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin, naproxen (Naprosyn), ibuprofen (Nurofen, Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin), or COX-2 selective inhibitors (Celebrex, Vioxx, or Mobic). In some cases the doctor or therapist will use ultrasound (gentle sound-wave vibrations) to warm deep tissues and improve blood flow. Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises are added gradually. These may be preceded or followed by use of an ice pack. If there is no improvement, the doctor may inject a corticosteroid medicine into the space under the acromion. While steroid injections are a common treatment, they must be used with caution because they may lead to tendon rupture. If there is still no improvement after 6 to 12 months, the doctor may perform either arthroscopic or open surgery to repair damage and relieve pressure on the tendons and bursae.

The brand names included here are provided as examples only. If a particular brand name is not mentioned, this does not mean or imply that the product is unsatisfactory.

Posture and sleeping positions have been known to alleviate shoulder pain, possibly shoulder problems. For example, sleeping on one"s side can cause pain due to prolonged compression of the shoulder joint. Sleeping on one"s side without support can create or add to shoulder pain.

Rotator cuff tear

The term "rotator cuff" refers to a group of four tendons that blend together as they attach to the upper end of the arm bone (humerus). Normally these tendons transmit the force of muscles originating on the shoulder blade (scapula) to the arm providing motion and stability. The most commonly affected tendon is that of the supraspinatus muscle. Defects in the rotator cuff can come from an injury (cuff tear) or from degeneration (cuff wear). The degree to which a tendon is reparable depends on its quantity and quality. Degenerated tendons are often frail and retracted and may not be amenable to repair. Individuals that are elderly, smokers, or those having had cortisone injections often have weaker tendon tissue that fails without a significant injury. By contrast those whose tendon was torn by a substantial fall often have good quality tendon that can be repaired if surgery is performed promptly after the injury. The symptoms of rotator cuff disease include difficulty lifting the arm. Repair of a rotator cuff requires that the tendon be securely anchored to the bone at surgery and that the repair be protected for several months during healing.

The information contained above is for educational purposes only.  If you have
any questions relating to this or to any other orthopedic conditions, please consult
a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.

 
     
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