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Spine Physio Care

Shoulder Pain

Shoulder Pain

Shoulder problems including pain, are one of the more common reasons for physiotherapist (spine physio care) visits for musculoskeletal symptoms. The shoulder is the most movable joint in the body. However, it is an unstable joint because of the range of motion allowed. This instability increases the likelihood of joint injury, often leading to a degenerative process in which tissues break down and no longer function well.

Shoulder pain may be localized or may be referred to areas around the shoulder or down the arm. Other regions within the body (such as gallbladder, liver, or heart disease, or disease of the cervical spine of the neck) also may generate pain that the brain may interpret as arising from the shoulder.

Shoulder structures and functions

  • The shoulder joint is composed of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the humerus (upper arm bone) (see diagram). Two joints facilitate shoulder movement. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is located between the acromion (part of the scapula that forms the highest point of the shoulder) and the clavicle. The glenohumeral joint, to which the term "shoulder joint" commonly refers, is a ball-and-socket joint that allows the arm to rotate in a circular fashion or to hinge out and up away from the body. The "ball" is the top, rounded portion of the upper arm bone or humerus; the "socket," or glenoid, is a dish-shaped part of the outer edge of the scapula into which the ball fits. Arm movement is further facilitated by the ability of the scapula itself to slide along the rib cage. The capsule is a soft tissue envelope that encircles the glenohumeral joint. It is lined by a thin, smooth synovial membrane.
  • The bones of the shoulder are held in place by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Tendons are tough cords of tissue that attach the shoulder muscles to bone and assist the muscles in moving the shoulder. Ligaments attach shoulder bones to each other, providing stability. For example, the front of the joint capsule is anchored by three glenohumeral ligaments.
  • The rotator cuff is a structure composed of tendons that, with associated muscles, holds the ball at the top of the humerus in the glenoid socket and provides mobility and strength to the shoulder joint.
  • Four filmy sac-like structures called bursa permit smooth gliding between bone, muscle, and tendon. They cushion and protect the rotator cuff from the bony arch of the acromion.

Medical history and physical exam

  • Medical history (the patient tells the doctor about an injury). For shoulder problems the medical history includes the patient's age, dominant hand, if injury affects normal work/activities as well as details on the actual shoulder problem including acute versus chronic and the presence of shoulder catching, instability, locking, pain , paresthesias (burning sensation), stiffness, swelling, and weakness . Other salutary information includes OPQRST (onset, palliation/provocation, quality, radiation, severity, timing) and a history of issues that could lead to referred pain (pain felt at the shoulder but actually coming from another part of the body) including cervical spine disorders, heart attacks, peptic ulcer disease, and pneumonia. Standardized questionnaires like the Penn Shoulder Score that assess shoulder pain and function can aid in eliciting the required history to make a diagnosis and monitor condition progression.
  • Physical examination of the shoulder to feel for injury and discover the limits of movement, location of pain, and extent of joint instability. The steps to elicit this information are inspection (looking), palpation (feeling), testing range of motion, and performing special maneuvers. Information collected on inspection are asymmetry, atrophy, ecchymosis, scars, swelling, and venous distention. Palpation can help find pain and deformities, and should specifically include the anterior glenohumeral joint, acromioclavicular joint, biceps tendon, cervical spine, coracoid process, scapula, and sternoclavicular joint. Range of motion tests external and internal rotation, abduction and adduction, passive and active weakness, and true weakness versus weakness due to pain. The Apley scratch test is the most useful: touch opposite scapular by reaching behind the head for adduction and external rotation and behind the back for abduction and internal rotation. Finally, there are more specific maneuvers that can home in on a diagnosis, however their accuracy is limited.
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