Common Shoulder Questions

Bryan Royce, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon
Shoulder Pain

Almost every day, I treat patients with shoulder pain, instability or stiffness. Having limited mobility of the shoulder really affects quality of life and can have a major impact on normal activities. Some concerns are easy to treat while others require surgery.

Most shoulder concerns can be classified into four common causes:

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis or tear
  • Impingement (bone spurs rubbing on the rotator cuff)
  • Biceps tendonitis
  • Arthritis

Your shoulder is made up of several joints, tendons, muscles and three bones - your upper arm (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula) and your collarbone (clavicle). When patients have shoulder pain, I always start by suggesting conservative treatments.

What non-operative treatments can I try for my shoulder pain?

  • Rest
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Formal or at-home physical therapy
  • Ice, heat, creams and rubs
  • Steroid injections from a healthcare provider
  • Sometimes the injury has gotten to the point where surgery is the best option

What are my surgical options if conservative treatments are no longer effective?

  • Shoulder arthroscopy for rotator cuff and biceps tendon-related issues
  • Shoulder replacement options for severe shoulder arthritis

Another common question I receive - especially around football season - is about the rotator cuff and related injuries. A rotator cuff is a grouping of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint – keeping the ball in the socket. 

How do I know if I’ve torn my rotator cuff?

  • Pain started with an acute injury to the shoulder usually holding weight out away from the body or a fall with arms extended
  • Weakness trying to lift arm out to the side
  • May require MRI to definitively diagnose

When should I call my healthcare provider?

  • Your pain becomes worse or begins to interfere with your normal activities or ability to sleep well
  • You can’t use your shoulder as much as you were able to previously

Next steps

Consider these tips to get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time and purpose for that visit.

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