Shoulder pain that doesn’t go away with a few days’ rest or pain that requires a significant amount of painkillers to bring relief should raise alarm bells. In my clinic, patients who suffer from shoulder pain with seemingly unknown causes typically have one of three common conditions: injury to the rotator cuff (the main group of muscles that mobilise the shoulder), injury to the labrum (a rubber band-like structure that keeps the shoulder in its socket) or “frozen shoulder”.
Believe it or not, a rotator cuff injury doesn’t just happen to athletes. In fact, a large number of patients with a bothersome shoulder ache have no recollection of how it occurred. It could easily have been due to a forgettable action such as grabbing a bag from the back seat of a car while sitting in the front seat.
Labrum injuries, too, don’t just happen to athletes, though this type of injury does commonly occur in throwing sports or activities with repetitive overhead movement – volleyball and tennis, for example. And, it happens gradually over time. So, a frustrated gym enthusiast will lament that he is no longer able to bench-press his usual loads because of a sharp pain; or a tennis player might no longer be able to serve overhead without pain; yet, both will deny any earth-shattering injury.
A frozen shoulder may be triggered by a known injury, including a labrum or rotator cuff injury. However, often the patient doesn’t recall any injury at all. Without proper counsel and care, a condition that could have been resolved in two months may drag on for two years with serious complications. Therefore, it’s important not to brush off that shoulder pain! Getting a diagnosis early and receiving proper treatment will stave off long-lasting disability.