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What Are the Most Common Shoulder Problems?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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The human shoulders are comprised of joints, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and cartilage, all of which are vital to proper functioning. When shoulder problems occur in one or more of these component parts, the results are often painful and debilitating. Shoulder problems can arise from a number of different causes, though most people suffer because of injuries or overuse. Certain diseases and medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and heart attacks can also cause significant shoulder problems. Mild strains or soreness can usually be treated at home with rest, ice packs, and shoulder wraps, though more serious problems should be reported to a physician. Doctors can prescribe medications, design physical therapy and exercise routines, and recommend surgery to correct major problems.

Most shoulder problems are caused by blows to the back, neck, or shoulder, trying to move or pick up heavy objects, or intense physical activity. An injury to the shoulder or surrounding area can lead to bruising, inflammation, and swelling in mild cases, and damaged nerves, muscles, and tendons in more severe instances. Bruised bones and muscles can be quite painful, and result in a limited range of motion. Bones can even be dislocated from their joints, causing intense, immediate pain and requiring emergency medical attention.

Doctors usually recommend that people with injury-induced sore shoulders get plenty of rest, apply ice packs periodically, wrap their shoulders with supportive bandages. More severe injuries, including broken bones and torn ligaments and tendons, usually necessitate physical rehabilitation therapy or surgery to reattach tissue. Doctors often recommend that recovering patients stretch thoroughly before activities to decrease the chance of future injuries.

To reduce the impact of chronic pain and avoid aggravating any injuries, your doctor may also recommend pillows and mattress toppers for shoulder pain. When you have an injury, you are much more sensitive to the pressure of your body weight as you sleep. You can alleviate pressure with a firm mattress topper. With a good mattress topper and a few wedge pillows, you can keep your neck and spine aligned as you sleep, thus evenly distributing weight across your frame. 

Overuse can result in significant shoulder problems, such as strains, sprains, bursitis, and tendinitis. Bursitis is a condition in which the small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion shoulder joints become inflamed due to overexertion and activity, resulting in soreness, limited movement, and swelling. Tendinitis is a similar condition that causes inflammation in overworked tendons. Physicians usually suggest rest and over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs to manage tendinitis and bursitis symptoms.

Some diseases affect bones, muscles and joints in the shoulder, especially arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Arthritis causes cartilage and bone tissue to wear away over time, causing instability in the joints and greatly increasing the risk of debilitating injuries. Multiple sclerosis affects neural functioning and voluntary muscle movements, which can lead to problems controlling the shoulders. Doctors usually try to treat the underlying causes of disease-related shoulder problems by prescribing medication and arranging for regular physical therapy sessions to regain strength and movement.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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