Shoulder pain causes can be prevented or minimized by: John Oxley, PT

Surprisingly, between 18 and 31 percent of the adult population experience shoulder pain during any 30-day period. There are many causes of shoulder pain including rotator cuff tendonitis or tears, adhesive capsulitis, shoulder instability and osteoarthritis. If we can identify risk factors for these conditions, we can prevent or at the very least minimize the problem.

Some lifestyle risk factors for shoulder pain and more specifically rotator cuff issues include obesity, tobacco use, and type 1 diabetes mellitus. These risk factors are believed to contribute to rotator cuff tears because of the restriction of blood flow related to nicotine and diabetes. The rotator cuff tendon suffers from limited blood flow anyway making it more susceptible than other tendons to chronic injury and tearing. Other risk factors that make people susceptible to shoulder injury include working with arms above shoulder level; hand-arm vibration; repetitive movements; pushing and pulling; and carrying loads supported by the shoulder.

A proactive approach to shoulder health includes brief daily stretching, posture improvement, intermittent rest breaks from overhead activity, and early identification of shoulder dysfunction. Early identification is extremely important because shoulder problems can get significantly worse if ignored and depending on the condition can be irreparable if unchecked. Conversely, acute shoulder pain responds well to intervention and early treatment can decrease productivity loss dramatically.

There are some seasonal activities on the horizon that are a common complaint and source of pain for my patient population: Raking leaves, shoveling snow, putting up Christmas decorations/lights, and weight training associated with early new years resolutions are just a few. You cannot avoid these activities, but you can be smart while undertaking these “must dos” by doing the following:

Take frequent rest breaks to change body position.

Don’t try to finish it all at once.

Use a ladder for reaching places overhead. Be careful when using a ladder, because the injuries associated with falling off a ladder can be far worse than a little shoulder pain.

Early treatment is important when it comes to treating shoulder problems efficiently and effectively. This is especially true when it comes to suspected rotator cuff tears because ignoring the problem can have catastrophic repercussions in some instances. Adhesive capsulitis is another condition that the research has recently supported treating early to prevent further freezing or loss of motion.

If you simply know that your shoulder hurts and don’t really know why then you should have a physician or physical therapist evaluate you. Possible treatments include steroid injections, surgery, oral medications or physical therapy to address your pain or limitations in function. In conclusion, be aware of shoulder position during seasonal or work activities, a healthy lifestyle can positively effect your joint health, and don’t wait to address your problem because the earlier it is addressed typically the more successful we are with treatment.

If you have any questions, email John at

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