If you’ve ever suffered from shoulder pain, you probably know that sometimes it feels like the whole world is resting on your shoulders! I know my followers tend to have a lot going on between work, friends, and family. And when you are so busy, with so much weighing on you, shoulder pain is the last thing you need! But we’ve got a way to save your shoulders!
So let’s talk about some causes of shoulder pain, and tricks to help you save your shoulders. This way, you can step into life joyfully, with one less thing to worry about! You work hard, and let’s also work smart!
Besides my experience as a physical therapist, I’ve dealt with shoulder pain firsthand as a patient myself. Yep, you’re not alone! I even had to go through rehabilitation and surgery to fix my shoulder problems.
In some cases, like recurring dislocated shoulders, surgery can be the best option, as Penn Medicine explains. While other types of shoulder pain are better suited to physical therapy. Of course, if your shoulder pain is accompanied by swelling, redness or tenderness, and warmth around the joint, Mayo Clinic recommends you make an appointment with your doctor to have it looked at.
Likewise, they note if an injury causes shoulder pain, you should be driven to urgent care or an emergency room. Also if the joint looks deformed, or if you have intense pain, sudden swelling, or an inability to use the joint or move your arm.
Causes of Shoulder Pain
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, about 7.5 million people went to the doctor for shoulder problems in 2006 — and over half of those visits were for rotator cuff issues! Since movements of your arms, neck, and back can involve your shoulders, it’s no surprise that shoulder injuries are so noticeable.
Shoulder pain can be experienced in different ways. It may come on slowly or for some, very suddenly. Maybe it’s excruciatingly painful, or maybe it’s just mildly annoying. Either way, pay attention to what your body is telling you.
So let’s get to the root of the 6 causes of shoulder pain!
1. Poor posture
The way you stand and sit can have a huge impact on your body! Poor posture can decentralize the joint, causing your bones to not move as smoothly. It can lead to excess wear and tear, joint degeneration, and tissue strain.
So, it’s really important to go about your day with proper posture. As you stand tall, your joints are properly centralized. But when you lean forward into bad posture, the shoulder joint falls out of alignment. Watch for bad habits. You can correct them and improve your posture.
If you want to know more about how to practice good posture, I’ve got tips in my article on proper posture for pain relief.
2. Instability or Injury
Another potential cause of shoulder pain is instability, which can come from an injury or an imbalance of muscles, like muscle weakness. Of course, an injury like falling or fracturing a nearby bone can cause damage issues and pain. Pay attention to that soreness.
3. Bone and joint degeneration
Sometimes, shoulder pain is caused by osteoarthritis. This condition occurs over time when the joint isn’t functioning properly and the muscle tissues are damaged. Some resources cite age as a cause of shoulder pain. Personally, I believe that staying active and practicing good posture as we age can be a great way of staving off shoulder pain and making age less of a factor. Let’s keep our bodies functioning at their best level, for as long as possible!
These are conditions that arise from tissue irritation. They can be traced back to issues like poor posture, stress, muscle imbalance, and tightness. Carrying your shoulders high and feeling tense there can affect your shoulders. And carrying your shoulders “protectively” (forward and high) can lead to being out of alignment in your shoulder joint. Relax that stress, and relax your shoulders!
Many injuries occur from activities that involve sustained positioning of your arms over your head for a period of time — think construction work, or baseball pitching. Take steps to ensure healthy work-rest balance to help alleviate pain that comes from overuse.
Finally, disuse is another cause of shoulder pain. Some of us tend to avoid moving when our shoulders hurt, and we may also tend to move less as we age. This isn’t good — it can lead to adhesive capsulitis, the medical term for a “frozen shoulder.” It can be very difficult to recover from a frozen shoulder, so it’s important to work to prevent it whenever you can.
Don’t think for a minute that aging is a good excuse to sit around. You have too many wonderful gifts and talents to share. And an added benefit is better physical mobility. Keep it moving!
Building Healthy Habits
Let’s discuss a patient who injured her arm and started to feel some of the symptoms of a shoulder injury. Her arms felt weak, and she had trouble lifting them over her head. Nancy sought help when she found she couldn’t reach and use her arms properly without pain. After treatment and training, we saw a big victory. She was able to re-establish a full range of shoulder movement!
Our arm bone, the humerus, is surrounded by four rotator cuff muscles, and these muscles are protected by a pad called the bursa. If we have poor posture or poor muscle action, we can see our bursa continue to get squished by the head of the humerus, and that’s not good! So we want to build healthy habits to help keep that bursa protected!
Check Your Alignment
Let’s pause and check our alignment. When you stand, do your ears line up over your shoulder? Do your shoulders line up over your pelvis?
This alignment allows your arm to enjoy full freedom of movement. When you slouch, taking your body out of alignment, you start to rub on those bones that shouldn’t be aggravated, and you can potentially cause bursitis by irritating tissues.
Exercise: The Hitchhiker
Let’s try an exercise to strengthen our shoulders through external rotation. To do this, you’ll want an elastic band, which you can get from a sports store or your physical therapist. You’ll start standing up. Before beginning, you’ll want to put folded or rolled towels underneath your armpits, so as to keep them away from your body, protecting the joints and providing for good mid-range strengthening.
Next, you’ll hold either end of the band in your hands, with your thumbs out, like you’re hitchhiking. Try to pull straight out and away from your body with your hands, without moving your elbows. It’s hard work, especially if your elastic band is shorter. But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep those thumbs out and the towels close to your ribs, continuing to pull in and out on the band with your hands. You want to keep pulling your shoulders down and setting them before each repetition…don’t let them climb into the ears! This exercise helps keep the head of the humerus down, keeping it from smashing the bursa.
Exercise: Chair Sit-ups and Dips
I’ve got another tool for you to use in your work against shoulder pain! You’ll want to begin sitting in a chair. I like to start with my feet out, but you may need your feet under you in order to help push up. I want to meet you where you are, because that’s the best way to grow together. So don’t hurt yourself! Remember, we’re asking our body, not forcing it.
Rest your hands on the armrests of the chair, keeping them directly under your shoulders. Don’t lean back, or you’ll be losing this alignment! Next, you want to push up, lifting your bottom, while keeping your feet forward and off the ground, unless you need their support to get up. As you push yourself up, mind your alignment, and keep those shoulders out of your ears! After pushing up through your shoulders, you want to slowly lower yourself back down.
There you go, you just did a chair sit-up! You’re already on the road to shoulder strength–way to go!
You can also practice a dip. This is when you station yourself on a chair or other steady, supportive surface, and slowly lower your bottom off the edge of the chair and back.
These exercises may seem simple, but performing them properly is hard work! Congratulate yourself for all the hard work you’re doing. We are working towards strength together!
Encouragement for Today and Everyday
To all my friends out there suffering from shoulder pain — know that you are so strong! Pain is never easy, but we’ve learned that there are concrete ways to start working towards a pain-free future.
Now that we know the causes of shoulder pain, we can understand how to avoid it. We’re going to work on being mindful of our posture, and keeping our body in alignment all day long. You have the right tools in your toolbox, so don’t be afraid to practice your “hitchhiker” and “chair sit-ups and dips” exercises!
Remember the importance of keeping the body active, and if you’re already busy working with your arms, don’t forget to take time for that work-rest balance.
And as you go about your day, take stock of your posture. Are your shoulders relaxed? Is your body aligned, ears over shoulders and shoulders over pelvis? These little check-ins can have a big impact on your shoulders in the future!
For encouragement, I think of Psalm 81:6-7. This is God speaking: “Now I will take the load from your shoulders. I will free your hands from their heavy tasks. You cried to me in trouble and I saved you. I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah.”
Another encouraging scripture is Matthew 11:29, when Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
And here is my prayer for you: Heavenly Father, we thank You again for Your patience and Your mercy. Please forgive us for trying to do your job and carrying the world on our shoulders. You promise to carry us through physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain if we will just fall back into Your waiting, trustworthy arms of care. You are the healer. You created my friend and me. Every atom, every system, every purpose.
We praise You and we thank You for every relief and for meeting our needs — and so often, so much more! With my friend, we ask You to forgive us for ignoring You, rejecting Your wisdom, Your provision, Your warnings, and Your guidance. Remind us to cast our cares on You, because You care and love for my friend as well as me, more than we can ever know. You are always there for us, no matter what! Help us to turn to You, Lord, to ask for and receive the cleansing, healing, and blessing that you offer. It is in Your name, Lord Jesus, and in the power of Your victory over sin, death and Satan that I ask these things. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Thank you so much for joining me today on our journey of shoulder healing. I hope you are full of peace and free of pain as you work to save your shoulders!