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Shoulder Pain and Injuries

The older we get, the harder it is to shrug off those aches and pains associated with physical activity. Sometimes, the pain in your joints is an indicator of something more serious – something that may require surgery.

Colin O’Conner has swam and played water polo for most of his life. The strenuous physical activity eventually led to shoulder problems, specifically, repeated dislocations.

Today he is working hard to increase the range of motion and strength in his shoulder. He recently had surgery to fix the problem. Like many people, Colin postponed treatment for years, enduring the pain instead of seeking a more permanent solution. Eventually, he was forced to make a decision. “The last time I dislocated it I couldn't get it back in myself, so I decided that it's time for the surgery.”

According to Dr. Roy Trawick at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, people avoid going to see an orthopedic specialist because they are afraid of what they will learn. What many don't realize is that joint pain does not necessarily lead to surgery. And ignoring the pain can just make the problem worse.

“You don't want to encourage people to be hypochondriacs about every ache and pain,” says Dr. Trawick. “But, that pain around the shoulder is telling you something. Most often, we can head those things off at the pass without a surgery.”

Heading things off at the pass means this: physical therapy. Trawick says that 75 to 80 percent of his patients will see improvement with therapy. However, Trawick notes that many people will just stop using their arm in order to avoid pain. When they do, they lose motion, and the stiffness that can result from that will actually make the problem worse.

People who are 40 and older are most likely to have shoulder pain - rotator cuff tears being the most common injury. “Rotator cuff refers to four muscles in the shoulder that come out and attach around the upper part of the arm. They help you rotate and elevate the arm. The also help keep the ball centered in the socket throughout a full range of motion.”

Trawick says a sizable cuff tear will make it difficult for a person to lift, to reach into a cabinet, to comb their hair, to do even the simplest of things. He says surgical repair will give the best long term results with such an injury.

Long term results and a return to water polo are what Colin is hoping for. ”I would recommend getting physical therapy and treatment soon and staying with the exercises. I work with lifeguards that have the same problems that I had. I keep telling them to keep up with their home therapy program so they won't have to have the surgery like me.”

Trawick says with winter coming, people should to take care when walking because slipping on the ice is one of the most common causes of shoulder injury. You can learn more about the causes and treatments for shoulder injuries at Medline Plus.

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