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Shoulder Injuries: Is it ok to play through the pain

In the world of sports, you’ll regularly hear about athletes being treated for serious shoulder injuries, whether it’s a torn rotator cuff caused by the repetitive stress of throwing a baseball, or a shoulder separation from the impact of getting tackled by a 250-pound linebacker. Fortunately, pro athletes don’t usually have to wait very long to learn the nature of their injury, and they’re often on the road to recovery in a matter of days.

By comparison, in our own lives, it can sometimes be harder to tell if a nagging shoulder problem has evolved into something more serious. And unless you’re regularly playing contact sports, a fracture or dislocation of the shoulder might be less likely than a slow-developing condition like bursitis or tendinitis.

So how do we know why we’re feeling shoulder pain? And is it something we can handle with rest, ice and pain meds, or is an appointment with a doctor necessary? Here are some things to consider.

No matter our line of work, our shoulders carry a great deal of weight (literally and figuratively), as the muscles, bones, and cartilage in this part of the body are essential to countless everyday tasks, from typing on a computer to picking up a child, driving a car, or waving hello to a friend. There’s a reason a nice shoulder rub from a partner can bring us relief, considering how much stress is put on these joints. If you’ve been relying solely on massages, ibuprofen, and a mix of ice or heating pads to treat recurring shoulder pain, it might be time to schedule a consultation with your physician to discuss your condition. This is especially true if any of the following applies to you:

  • You have regular severe shoulder pain that affects your normal movement throughout the day, including getting dressed, showering, preparing meals, etc.
  • You have noticed limitations in motion or general weakness compared to before, be it in your reach or ability to rotate the joint.
  • You feel enough shoulder pain at night that it sometimes affects your ability to sleep well.
  • Anti-inflammatory meds and stretching / physiotherapy exercises haven’t proven effective in treating your condition.

There are numerous explanations for severe shoulder pain, and while there are some scenarios that require an immediate trip to the hospital—i.e., total immobility of the joint, a deformed appearance, extreme swelling or numbness—most conditions can be analyzed by first discussing the pain with your doctor, then undergoing the testing they recommend. This may include X-rays, an MRI, CT scan, or an EMG.

In some cases, your doctor may simply recommend extended rest and/or an exercise program before suggesting a more advanced treatment or procedure. Conditions like cartilage and rotator cuff tears, “frozen shoulder,” impingements, and bursitis may get better over time with at-home care, but some more serious forms of these conditions—or a diagnosed degenerative joint disease like osteoarthritis—could require a surgical solution. At Southeastern Med, we offer a variety of these procedures, including shoulder arthroscopies, rotator cuff and torn labrum surgeries, and complete shoulder replacements.

It’s important to remember that shoulder pain can sometimes be a symptom of an unrelated health problem, , such as a heart condition or liver and/or gallbladder disease. This makes it all the more imperative to seek out medical guidance for a shoulder injury, particularly if you’re over 50 or dealing with additional health concerns.

To learn more, you can contact Southeastern Med today at (740) 439-8000.

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