Shoulder pain can be a disabling problem, and can affect people of different ages and occupations. In many cases simple measures like rest, avoiding certain activities, and over-the-counter pain-killer medication can help relieve shoulder pain. In some instance anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy prescribed by your doctor are necessary to improve the symptoms. Sometime shoulder pain is associated with other functional limitations, or persists and becomes a chronic problem, not responding to conservative measures.
It is important to recognize instances when an evaluation by an orthopedic shoulder specialist is needed. Symptoms that include limitations in range of motion and stiffness, weakness and inability to keep the arm overhead, intractable pain especially at night, significant grinding or painful catching assiociated with certain positions, should all prompt further evaluation. Of particular concern is a sudden inability to move or lift the arm after suffering a fall or other trauma to the arm or shoulder. Symptoms that do not improve after 2 to 3 months of conservative treatment should be evaluated by a specialist. Likewise significant pain and discomfort with overhead activity should prompt further evaluation. Shoulder dislocations for example can have serious consequences on long-term shoulder function and should be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon promptly. In most cases conservative treatment can leads to excellent outcomes, however it is important to identify serious conditions that do not respond to simple measures. Some of these include rotator cuff tears, SLAP tears, frozen shoulder, biceps tendinitis and advanced arthritis, and can lead to significant disability. It is important to recognize that some conditions are best treated with surgery, in order to achieve a good outcome, and return to a pain-free and functional state.