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Shoulder Pain can be caused by a wide range of injuries or conditions. The shoulder joint itself is an extremely mobile joint with very low stability, leaving it open to injuries such as dislocations. The shoulder girdle (the joint itself, plus the AC joint, Scapula and surrounding muscles/ligaments/tendons) is also heavily involved in upper back and neck posture and so postural problems and muscle imbalances are also common shoulder issues.

In general, shoulder injuries can be divided into two categories:

Acute (traumatic) injuries
Overuse/postural injuries

Acute Injuries 

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Acute injuries are those that occur as a result of a sudden force or movement at the joint. The individual will usually know exactly when the injury happened and can often describe the event. They often describe a sudden pain and sometimes a clicking or popping sensation.

Acute injuries may include:

Shoulder dislocations
AC joint injuries
Rotator cuff tears
Glenoid labrum injuries
Clavicle fractures
Treatment of an acute injury should involve immediate rest and the application of cold therapy, in the form of an ice pack or wrap. Taking the weight of the arm off the shoulder using a sling may also be recommended. Medical attention should then be sought to determine the nature of the injury and the appropriate course of treatment.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries are those where shoulder pain develops over a period of time, gradually becoming worse until the individual seeks medical attention. They usually cannot pin-point a specific incident which caused the pain and quite often the pain is not easy to pin-point, with no specific tender area. Overuse injuries are usually related to either poor posture or poor sporting technique (or any other activity), or both!

Common overuse injuries include:

Impingement syndromes
Rotator cuff tendinopathy
Treatment of an overuse injury is often more difficult than an acute injury. Initially the aggravating activity should be ceased to allow the tissues involve to rest. Soft tissue treatments and electrotherapy may also be used to reduce pain and inflammation, as well as breaking down scar tissue and increasing muscle flexibility.

Once pain and inflammation have subsided, an exercise rehabilitation programme is usually implemented to address any postural problems and muscle imbalances which may have contributed to the injury. Other factors such as poor technique, training errors and unsuitable equipment should also be corrected.

Heidi Mills BSc (Hons) GSR is a Graduate Sports Rehabilitator who works for http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net as well as running a private clinic in Norwich (UK).


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