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Dealing With a Shoulder Injury

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 15 Mar 2013 | comments*Discuss
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It’s amazing how we take our health for granted, and expect every body part to work wonderfully – until it doesn’t. That’s what happened to university lecturer Carol Griffin, who suddenly found herself with a shoulder injury that threatened to incapacitate her completely.

“I was putting some clothes into the washing machine when I felt a wrenching pain in my shoulder. From then on, I could barely move my shoulder without it hurting,” recalls Carol, 34, who lives in London.

“It got to the point that even sitting next to someone on the settee could hurt, if they accidentally bumped into my shoulder or arm, or put any pressure on it. That’s when I knew I needed help.”

Saw GP for Help

Carol went to her GP, who sent her for an ultrasound scan. It turned out that Carol had a rotator cuff injury, probably caused by overuse, which can cause extreme pain.

“The GP said it was no doubt due to overuse on my computer, combined perhaps with a minor shoulder injury. I remembered that I had slammed my shoulder into a wall a few weeks earlier, which probably started it off.”

The recommended treatment was physiotherapy, which helped, combined with a cortisone injection, which didn’t. “The cortisone didn’t work, and although the physio was painful, after about a month it did the trick,” says Carol.

“I was also given a set of exercises to do at home, which made things better and hopefully will stop the same injury from recurring again. I was extremely lucky, the GP said, that I didn’t actually tear anything and require surgery.”

Types of Shoulder Injuries

Many types of shoulder injuries are fairly common. The majority of them happen due to a specific injury, although often age and overuse can play a part. Here are some of the most common shoulder injuries – and how you can overcome them:

  • Rotator Cuff Calcific Tendonitis: Small calcium deposits form along the tendons where the rotator cuff is located, which can result in acute pain – or be painless. Anti-inflammatories, applied heat and physiotherapy exercises usually resolve the problem, which is more common in diabetics and people between the ages of 30 – 40.
  • Rotator Cuff Injury: This injury gets its name from the rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles used to help the shoulder rotate. Sports in which a lot of movement is required can easily result in this type of injury happening, as can a sudden movement which results in a rotator cuff tear. During the initial period of acute pain, alternative ice and heat may be applied. A GP will then decide whether to send you for a scan, and if surgery is needed. Usually physiotherapy can fix the problem.
  • Shoulder Bursitis: A bursa is a tiny sac filled with fluid. Bursae located in the shoulder area help reduce friction between body tissues. Shoulder bursitis occurs when this sac in the shoulder becomes inflamed, usually due to injury. If there is no infection, it can be treated with medications, although sometimes the bursa will need to be aspirated.
  • Frozen Shoulder: Usually affecting women in their non-dominant arm, a frozen shoulder is when scar tissues begins to form in the shoulder’s capsule and can sometimes follow a shoulder injury. You will experience pain and stiffness, and will probably need painkillers, shoulder exercises and perhaps a steroid injection to make the complications disappear.
  • Dislocated Shoulder: This occurs when the upper arm bone, known as the humerus, is forcibly removed from its socket. This will cause immediate severe pain, and can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Get thee to a doctor, quick!

Don’t Avoid Treatment

If you believe you are suffering from a shoulder injury, get treatment as soon as possible. In many cases, physiotherapy is the best way to deal with a shoulder injury with the exception of a dislocated shoulder, when medical attention is needed immediately.

If the symptoms do not seem to get better within a short period of time, it is advised to get an ultrasound or MRI scan, to ascertain whether or not surgery will be needed.

“My shoulder injury might not sound like it was too severe, but it was making it difficult for me to both sleep and do my work on the computer,” recalls Carol.

“I thought it would never go away, but when I started physiotherapy I could see a definite improvement straightway. I could sleep better and could carry my handbag again without it hurting.

“It’s now been almost a year, and although my shoulder is still not 100 percent, it’s a lot better. I still do not have complete freedom of movement in my left arm, but it’s a lot better than it was.

“I would advise anyone with a shoulder injury to see a physiotherapist, and religiously do their exercises at home. It worked for me.”

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