While 2020 may be an unusual year in many ways, one thing that isn’t unusual is the number of patients we see with shoulder pain. It’s a pretty common medical issue caused by any number of factors ranging from arthritis to a sports injury to a repetitive motion work injury. Generally, shoulder problems fall into three categories:

Shoulder instability. This occurs when trauma causes a dislocation, or when the muscles and ligaments that surround the shoulder joint become injured as the result of overuse. Patients often feel pain and the sense that their shoulder is loose; the joint may “give out” during activity.

Fortunately, shoulder instability often can be addressed non-surgically through activity modification, anti-inflammatory pain relievers and/or physical therapy. Even when surgery is necessary, there are arthroscopic options that may speed recovery time for some patients.

Rotator cuff tears. Overuse, over time, can cause a rotator cuff tear. The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons and muscles around the shoulder joint. While overuse can cause a tear, so can a fall or heavy lifting. You’ll recognize a rotator cuff tear from the shoulder pain, weakness and lack of mobility that often accompany it. You may also hear cracking sounds or be unable to sleep on your shoulder following an injury.

While painful, a rotator cuff tear won’t necessarily land you in the operating room. As with shoulder instability, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory pain relievers may help. Your provider may recommend a cortisone injection, which also works to decrease inflammation. For some, these approaches may significantly improve the situation.

Shoulder arthritis. Just like your hip and knee, the shoulder joint can be affected by arthritis. This is a wearing and tearing of the cartilage surface that lines the shoulder joint. This can cause significant pain and limited range of motion, which can significant impact your daily life. There are several options for treating this condition, including anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, injections, and shoulder replacement surgery.

So now that you know about the most common shoulder injuries, you might be asking how you can keep from getting hurt in the first place? Here are some tips:

• Stay physically active; warm up before activities and stretch afterward.

• Wear the appropriate protective gear for activities like roller-blading or bicycling.

• Lift heavy items correctly or ask someone to help you, to avoid stressing the shoulder.

• Listen to your body. So many times, we hear from people that they knew their shoulder didn’t “feel right” but they kept going or needed to get the job done so they ignored the pain.

The most important thing to do when you have persistent shoulder pain, is to get it checked out by a medical professional. Waiting to do so may limit your options and could cause greater damage to your shoulder.

Finally, if you do need surgery, Bellin Health has fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons who are shoulder experts, whether it’s repairing a tear or a state-of-the-art total shoulder replacement. We want you to get back to doing what you love to do so, if shoulder pain is disrupting your life, it’s time to make an appointment and get it checked out.

Dr. Kevin Shepet and Dr. Derek Vaughn both work at Bellin Health.