Shoulder pain is one of the most common problems affecting the joints and muscles of the human body. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons more than 400,000 people in the USA seek medical attention each year due to shoulder pain. Many of these shoulder problems frequently recur or persist.
It has been reported that 50% of people who seek medical attention for shoulder pain continue to have shoulder problems 1 year after the onset of their symptoms. Shoulder problems are often given a medical diagnosis, such as tendonitis, rotator cuff tear, impingement syndrome, frozen shoulder, capsulitis, or arthritis.
Shoulder pain is often felt in the shoulder and upper arm region often only felt with specific activities such as dressing, reaching overhead, or reaching behind ones back. Sometimes shoulder pain can be felt constantly and significantly disturb sleep making life miserable.
Common treatments for shoulder pain are medication, injections, acupuncture, and electrical modalities (ultrasound, TENS, etc.). Some of these may give short-term relief but do not provide effective long-term relief from pain or loss of function. Exercises to stretch and strengthen the shoulder, especially when combined with manual therapy techniques to restore shoulder mobility, have been proven to be effective treatments for many shoulder problems.
Causes of Recurrent Shoulder Pain
However, doing exercises for the shoulder is only part of the solution. Often overlooked or ignored are the positions we hold our arms in the rest of the time.
It is important to realize that the way we move our arms and/or the way we hold our arms during many activities can significantly contribute to shoulder problems. In fact, these abnormal stresses will most certainly continue to cause recurrence of shoulder problems unless action is taken to modify these habits.
Common Postural Stresses on the Shoulder
Although forces that put sudden, intense strain on the shoulder, like starting a lawn mower and falling onto the shoulder, elbow, or hand, can cause shoulder pain, postural stresses that put less severe strain on the shoulder over a longer period of time are more frequently to blame.
4 common postural stresses that frequently cause and/or aggravate shoulder pain are:
- Repetitive or prolonged tasks in raised arm postures
- Sitting in slouched postures
- Standing in slouched postures
- Sleeping with the shoulder unsupported or lying in a raised arm posture
Correcting Harmful Shoulder Postures
In order to successfully treat shoulder pain, it is important to become aware of which shoulder positions and activities aggravate and perpetuate your problem and learn the correct positions and ways to hold the shoulder to avoid aggravation or recurrence of symptoms while still remaining as active as possible. Below are some suggestions to correct shoulder posture and reduce stress to the shoulder
To avoid raised arm positions, you should always attempt to adjust your environment to allow the arms to be held in a correct position with the elbow close to the body. If this is not possible, interrupt sustained raised arm postures frequently.
Learn to sit and stand upright to avoid abnormal prolonged stress placed on the shoulder.
Reduce the compressive load on the shoulder by avoiding lying on the affected side, lying in a raised arm posture, or adding additional supportive pillows to the shoulder and neck.
- McKenzie, R., Watson, G., & Lindsay, R. (2009). Treat your own shoulder. Raumati Beach, New Zealand: Spinal Publications New Zealand Limited.