woman gripping shoulder in pain

Medical Terminology & How to Evaluate Your Shoulder Injury

Shoulder pain is one of the most common pain-related problems people experience. According to a study conducted by the University of Manchester, approximately 20% of the population suffers from shoulder pain at any given time. There are many causes of shoulder pain, and it can be problematic to determine the source of the pain without a medical evaluation. However, several common problems can influence shoulder pain more than others. In this post, we will introduce you to some common shoulder problems and the medical terminology used to describe them. We will also provide some great tips for evaluating your shoulder pain to determine the best treatment option for you.

Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems 

The shoulder is a complex joint that is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, all of which can be potential sources of pain. To effectively diagnose and treat shoulder pain, it is vital to understand the medical jargon used to refer to the shoulder and the various common shoulder problems.

The shoulder is made up of three main bone structures - the clavicle (or collarbone), the scapula (or shoulder blade), and the humerus (or upper arm bone). The shoulder joint is where the humerus meets the scapula. This joint is held together by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The muscles and tendons attach to the bones, while the ligaments attach the muscles and tendons to the bones.

Some of the most common conditions that cause shoulder pain include rotator cuff tendinitis, frozen shoulder, shoulder dislocation, and bursitis.

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a small sac of fluid that lubricates the shoulder joint. Tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendons, the strong cords of soft muscle fiber that attach the muscles to the bones. A dislocation happens when the ball of the shoulder joint pops out of its socket. Rotator cuff tears are tears in the tendons or muscles that surround the shoulder joint.

Common Symptoms of Shoulder Problems 

Symptoms of shoulder injuries can vary, but many include the same characteristics. Remember, if your experience with any of the following symptoms worsens, be sure to contact a healthcare professional for advice.

Pain - Pain is the primary and most prevalent symptom of a shoulder injury. Pain most often occurs in the soft tissues around the joint and can be dull, sharp, or shooting depending on severity of the injury.

Swelling - Swelling or inflammation is the body’s response to internal damage. Swelling most often happens near tears, dislocations, or damaged joint cartilage.

Stiffness - Stiffness often occurs in situations when excess friction or inflammation is blocking the shoulder from moving through its normal range of motion such as in cases of bursitis or shoulder impingement. 

Most Common Reason For Shoulder Pain 

The single most commonly reported reason for shoulder pain is rotator cuff tendinitis. The rotator cuff is the combined structure formed by the ball and socket joint of the shoulder, as well as the surrounding muscles and bones. Tendinitis, as explained before, is inflammation in the tendons. Rotator cuff tendonitis is often associated with overuse or loss of range of motion in the tendons due to impingement. Tendinitis can also be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute tendonitis often occurs in sports players like baseball pitchers from repetitive strenuous movements of the shoulder. Chronic tendonitis can be associated with normal wear and tear or health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis

Diseases Associated with Shoulder Pain 

On the topic of rheumatoid arthritis, there's a variety of other diseases that can cause shoulder problems, accompanied by shoulder pain. Some of these conditions include: Osteoarthritis - normal wear and tear joint inflammation; Polymyalgia rheumatica - a condition that causes generalized muscle pain in the upper body and hips; and in extremely rare cases, lung conditions like certain cancers that exert pressure on the surrounding nerves of the shoulder. Arthritis is by far the most common disease to cause shoulder pain and is only less common than muscle and tendon tears and inflammation when it comes to general shoulder pain causes. 

Shoulder Problem Diagnosis


There are several important methods for diagnosing shoulder problems. The first, and most common technique is a physical exam. Asking questions about the pain response and range of motion during certain movements allows doctors and physical therapists to diagnose most muscle, tendon, and ligament-related shoulder issues without any complicated medical diagnostics or equipment. If the physical exam is unsuccessful, doctors may turn to image tests such as X-rays or CT scans. These tests are generally harmless and allow doctors and other medical professionals a closer look at the internal structures of the shoulder. Organizations like the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons publish the most up-to-date information on how-to diagnose and treat various, less common shoulder problems. 

Treatment for Shoulder Problem  

Treatment for shoulder problems depends entirely on the diagnosis, because there's a variety of treatments that are more common than others in shoulder-related injuries and conditions. For example, treatment plans often include rest, ice, heat, and physical therapy. Surgery is sometimes required for more severe shoulder problems, but only as a last resort. Other types of joint-related problems can require steroid injections to reduce inflammation and muscle tightness and provide temporary relief to people with degenerative shoulder conditions. Most shoulder problems are prescribed with over-the-counter pain relief medications (if at all), as most cases are acute and expected to heal on their own over a short period. Some patients prefer topical pain relief solutions like Ice Plus over the more commonly prescribed pain relievers like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen. 

Remember, if you are experiencing shoulder pain and unsure of the cause, err on the side of caution and contact your health provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation.




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