Most of us take pain-free movement for granted until something goes wrong. It is often only after pain and reduced mobility set in that we recognize the importance of maintaining healthy joints. One of the most debilitating joint conditions is shoulder pain, making it difficult or even impossible to perform simple everyday activities like washing your hair, opening heavy doors, and getting items out of the kitchen cupboard.
Learn about common types and causes of shoulder pain, available treatment options, and how localized cryotherapy for shoulder pain can help to relieve pain and restore shoulder mobility.
Shoulder Joint Anatomy and Function
Your shoulder’s ball-and-socket architecture allows for a broad range of arm movements, making it the most mobile joint in your body. The glenohumeral joint is formed by the head of the humerus (arm bone), nestled into a cup of cartilage called the labrum. The labrum lines the hollow edge of the shoulder blade called the glenoid fossa, which is held in place by small loose ligaments.
But the shoulder involves more than the junction of the humerus and its socket. Shoulder movement encompasses the scapula (shoulder blade) clavicle (collar bone), and the acromion that forms a bridge between the scapula and clavicle.
An interesting characteristic of the shoulder complex is that, with the exception of the tiny acromioclavicular joint (ACJ), its bony structures are not directly connected to the axial skeleton — they merely float in a sea of muscles, tendons and fascia that attach to the spine, rib cage and humerus.
The shoulder’s unique architecture allows for movement in multiple planes of motion, but it can also make the shoulder unstable. Shoulder stability relies on the four rotator cuff muscles, as well as the 14 muscles of the back and chest that attach its structures to the axial skeleton. When the balance between shoulder stability and mobility is compromised, it can lead to shoulder pain and dysfunction.
Muscle imbalances in the shoulder complex can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Lack of physical activity
- Spending long hours in front of a computer
- Sports and other activities that use the body in asymmetrical ways
- Fascia densifications and adhesions
- Poor posture
- Repetitive overuse from sports, exercise or occupation
Physical therapy can help resolve muscle imbalances, and balanced muscle tension can be maintained by regular exercise and stretching.
Common Types of Shoulder Pain
Rotator cuff tear
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that govern arm movement. Their tendons attach to the bones surrounding the glenohumeral joint. Rotator cuff tears and ruptures can occur from overuse during sports like swimming, tennis and baseball. They can also be caused by repetitive occupational overuse, exercise, or from catching yourself when you fall.
Rotator cuff tears range from minor to severe, and can occur in the muscle itself or in the tendon. While surgical repairs are possible, they are most successful in young athletic people, and are not recommended for average adults.
Frozen shoulder syndrome is a condition where the shoulder “freezes,” limiting your arm range of motion. The shoulder becomes stiff and painful, and you may not be able to raise your arm above shoulder height, Despite being a common condition — affecting an estimated one in 50 people — scientists do not fully understand what causes frozen shoulder syndrome. It occurs most often in middle-aged people between the ages of 40-60.
Because shoulder stability relies on muscles, it is important to maintain balanced muscle tension throughout the shoulder complex. The shoulder can become unstable when muscles become weak, when some muscles become tight, or when muscles are unevenly trained. Regular exercise and stretching help to maintain shoulder stability while allowing for functional mobility.
Arthritis can arise when the smooth surface of cartilage that prevents bones from rubbing against each other wears away. Shoulder arthritis is most common in the acromioclavicular joint, but it can also occur in the glenohumeral joint. It normally affects people over age 50.
Shoulder strain from overuse
Physical activity that involves the shoulder joint can cause pain and stiffness, especially if you only do it occasionally. Overuse pain usually resolves itself with rest. Treating it with cold therapy can help to numb pain, reduce inflammation, and relieve stiffness.
Surgery vs Alternative Therapies for Shoulder Pain
Due to the painful and debilitating nature of shoulder pain, many people are eager to find a surgical solution. But when faced with the option of conservative care and cryotherapy treatment vs surgery, patients should carefully consider the risks, expense and post-recovery period of shoulder surgery.
Many experts agree that while shoulder surgery can be beneficial for young athletic people with significant rotator cuff ruptures, it should generally be avoided for older patients. In fact, according to a 2021 systematic review, researchers could find no significant difference in pain or clinical function at a 2-year followup between conservative care and shoulder surgery.
Alternative conservative treatments for shoulder pain include:
- Physical therapy exercises
- Manual therapy
- Shockwave therapy
- Regenerative therapies
- Posture correction therapy
How Localized Cryotherapy Works to Relieve Shoulder Pain
During a localized cryotherapy session, a trained clinician uses a wand-like device to target the site of pain with a steady stream of liquid nitrogen vapor. The air temperature surrounding the vapor may drop as low as minus 40º F, lowering your skin temperature to near freezing.
In response to the cold stimulus, blood vessels in the injured soft tissues constrict, shunting blood to your viscera to keep your vital organs warm. In the process, inflammation and cellular waste are flushed from the painful region and released into the lymphatic system, to be eliminated by the kidneys.
After just a few minutes of cryotherapy treatment, your body begins to warm again and blood returns to the injured site, bringing with it oxygen and nutrients to promote healing. Reduced pain and inflammation after a localized cryotherapy session can dramatically improve shoulder mobility and range of motion.
Get Localized Cryotherapy for Shoulder Pain in NYC
Shoulder pain can really slow you down and interfere with everyday activities. Prescription and over-the-counter pain meds only mask the symptoms, without addressing the source of pain. Cryotherapy for shoulder pain can quickly relieve pain and inflammation without the dangerous side effects of medications. It also triggers a regenerative response that jump-starts the healing process.
You don’t have to live with shoulder pain. Contact InVita Wellness today to schedule your localized cryotherapy session, and get rid of pain and stiffness so you can get back to pain-free daily living.
Longo, Umile Giuseppe, et al. “Conservative versus surgical management for patients with rotator cuff tears: a systematic review and META-analysis.” BMC musculoskeletal disorders 22 (2021): 1-10.
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