The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint and therefore one of the most mobile – as well as unstable – joints in the body. When improperly used (such as sitting hunched over a computer all day), it can lead to dysfunction, injury, and potentially a lot of shoulder pain.
These complex and important joints hover over our torso, connected to it almost entirely by muscles. There is one tiny joint where the clavicle meets the sternum, but other than that, it’s muscles and tendons – as well as our posture and movement patterns – that determine where our shoulders end up and how they operate.
Imbalances in the relationships between key muscle groups in the shoulder can lead to:
- rotator-cuff injuries
- frozen shoulder (AKA adhesive capsulitis)
- pain between the shoulder blades
- thoracic outlet syndrome
- carpal-tunnel-syndrome-like symptoms
- numbness and pain in the arms
- bad posture (shoulders rolled forward, arm rolled inward)
- impaired athletic performance
- neck pain
Shoulder pain is one of the most common injuries we see as massage therapists. At Elm City Wellness, we focus much of our treatment on the neck and spine in addition to the shoulder, helping to restore balance in all of the muscles in the area, lengthening the shortened muscles and getting the over-stressed and over-lengthened muscles to better engage.
Referred pain from the neck is extremely common. A bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus leaves the neck and travels down the shoulder into the arm and hand. These nerves have a labyrinth of muscle tissue, bone and joints to navigate around.
It is very easy for these nerves to become compressed. When this happens, pain can occur anywhere from the neck to the hand even though the actual site of compression can be elsewhere.
Symptoms of nerve compression could be:
- Shooting pains
- Aching senstations
- Pins and needles
- Weakness in the muscles
- The arm feeling “heavy” or “dead”
What can go wrong when there is shoulder pain?
- Muscle strains
- Postural strains/muscle imbalance
- Muscle/tendon tears
- Cartilage tears
- Frozen Shoulder (aka Adhesive Capsulitis)
- Bursitis, Tendonitis, Arthritis, and all other “itis” words!
When should I go to the doctor?
When in doubt, get it checked out! This is a good rule of thumb. If there is any doubt that you have something seriously wrong with your shoulder, you should see a doctor. Here are some signs you should not ignore:
- Pain that persists for more than two weeks
- Physical deformity of the joint
- Pain accompanied by redness, swelling, numbness
- Sudden swelling
- Loss of function or inability to use the joint
Can massage therapy help?
Absolutely! There are a lot of conditions in which a skilled massage therapist can help you manage. If you are a non-surgical candidate (meaning your doctor says you don’t need surgery, or he/she wants you to try the conservative route first), massage therapy can help. To be clear, a massage will not ‘cure’ your condition (arthritis, bursitis, tear, etc), but it can help remove adhesions in the tissue or muscles your shoulder and help it function the way it was intended. By relieving stress and strain on the muscles and tendons massage can help prevent future inflammation and injury. Massage can help:
- Decrease pain from Trigger Points
- Help increase range of motion by loosening shortened musculature
- Gently stretch the joint to increase range of motion
- Break up adhesions (scarred down muscle tissue) around the shoulder
- Encourage proper body mechanics through muscle and trigger point work
- Promote healing by using various techniques to increase circulation, shorten healing times
What if I had surgery?
If you have already had shoulder surgery, massage therapy can help, but you just need to be more careful. Make sure you have permission from your doctor and physical therapist and that the massage therapist you are seeing has a solid understanding of your doctor’s protocol and any contraindications. Remember: Massage therapy is NOT a replacement for PT after surgery; it is a complement to your prescribed treatment.
To learn more about Elm City Wellness