Don’t just shrug it off – weakness, pain, and stiffness can disappear for good with this simple treatment.
So, you have shabby shoulders. You can’t rotate them the way you used to, lift your arm up overhead, and they feel weak, stiff, or painful. There’s no need to “shrug it off” and suffer—we have a treatment that’s scientifically proven to mend your shoulder injury or pain.
Shoulder physical therapy is a type of treatment that is frequently recommended by doctors because it is a proven method of treating most shoulder conditions. According to recent scientific studies, physical therapy is a highly effective way to speed up the long-term recovery of common shoulder conditions such as rotator cuff tears and subacromial shoulder pain.
Ditch the idea of pills, surgery, and injections for shoulder conditions that are treatable through a natural and non-invasive approach. Read on to learn more about which shoulder conditions are commonly treated with physical therapy, how these conditions are healed through physical therapy, and what to expect from your physical therapy program.
Shoulder Conditions Commonly Treated through Physical Therapy
Shoulder conditions that are commonly treated through physical therapy include rotator cuff tears, shoulder tendonitis or tendinopathy, labral tears, shoulder impingement, and shoulder arthritis.
It is important for a Doctor of Physical Therapy to evaluate your condition to confirm the diagnosis and determine the cause. Many people who self-diagnose and try home treatments can make their symptoms worse since they are not trained to diagnose or assess the cause.
View the conditions below to see if your symptoms match. Then, dismiss the temptation to scroll through dozens of “home treatment” videos on the internet (which can worsen your condition). Instead, consult an expert in physical therapy who will ensure you’re getting the best care for your condition.
Rotator Cuff Tears
A rotator cuff consists of four muscles that control movement in the ball and socket of your shoulder. A tear refers to either a partial or full-thickness tear in the rotator cuff.
Here’s a quick video on what that rotator cuff is:
Signs & Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tears
✔ Difficulty raising your arm overhead
✔ Pain when pressure is placed on the affected shoulder
✔ Muscle weakness in the shoulder when lifting or rotating your arm
✔ A crackling noise or feeling when rotating the shoulder
Shoulder Tendinitis or Tendinosis
Both conditions induce pain and swelling in the shoulder are occasionally referred to as “shoulder tendinopathy.” While the symptoms of tendinitis and tendinosis look the same, the causes and treatments are different.
Shoulder tendinitis refers to inflammation of the tendon caused by a sudden overload to the tendon, whereas shoulder tendinosis refers to deterioration of the tendon’s collagen caused by repetitive overuse of the tendon.
Therefore, the treatment goal for tendinitis is to reduce inflammation, while the treatment goal for tendinosis is to restore collagen in the tendon.
Those who diagnose themselves with tendinitis and self-treat are at risk of making their condition worse if they have tendinosis. Even doctors occasionally confuse tendinitis with tendinosis, which is why it’s important to specifically see a Doctor of Physical Therapy for an accurate diagnosis.
Taking ibuprofen or other inflammation reducers can help tendinitis but slow the healing process of tendinosis. Tendinosis also requires more resting time than tendinitis. Since the symptoms appear the same for both conditions, a Doctor of Physical Therapy will determine which condition you have by evaluating the cause and performing further testing.
Signs & Symptoms of Shoulder Tendinitis & Tendinosis
✔ A swollen area around the tendon
✔ Pain and burning around the tendon
✔ Lack of mobility when raising or rotating the arms
✔ Pain that continues for weeks or months and is worsened from activity
Shoulder Labral Tear
A labral tear in the shoulder is defined as a tear in the cartilage within the shoulder joint. These tears are typically caused by repetitive stress to the shoulder joint, shoulder dislocation, acute injuries (such as car accidents), or wear-and-tear during the aging process.
Signs & Symptoms of a Shoulder Labral Tear
✔ A locking sensation in the shoulder joint
✔ A feeling of shoulder instability when rotating or raising the arms
✔ Lack of mobility when raising the arms overhead
✔ Inability to throw as far as before the tear
This is a condition where the humerus (shoulder bone) compresses the supraspinatus muscle (a muscle in the upper back) and the surrounding soft tissue. Shoulder impingement is typically caused by repetitive overhead activity, weak muscles, poor posture, acute injury (such as an accident), or a prior injury to the area.
Signs & Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement
✔Pain while raising an arm overhead or reaching behind the body
✔ Lack of mobility when raising the arms
✔ Weakness in the shoulder
✔ Pain while throwing a ball/object
As we age, our shoulders may develop arthritis. Shoulder arthritis is defined as inflammation in the shoulder joints. This condition is usually caused by cartilage degeneration from aging, repeated injuries to the shoulder area, or genetics.
Signs & Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis
✔A clicking, grinding, or clunking sound when moving the arm
✔ Persistent pain that worsens with weightlifting or sports that require movement of the shoulder joint
✔ Limited range of motion in the arms and shoulder
✔ Swelling and stiffness in the shoulder area
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Here’s How Your Physical Therapist Will Treat Your Shoulder Condition
Unlike other treatments, physical therapy will combine a variety of methods to strengthen, mobilize, and heal your shoulder condition so that you are left with strong shoulders and decreased risk of reinjury.
Your physical therapist will give you a personalized plan that targets the cause to eliminate the symptoms. If your shoulder condition stems from aging or genetics, your physical therapist will work with you to manage your symptoms and alleviate your pain for the long-haul.
Physical therapists take holistic approaches to treatment that will improve a patient’s overall health without the risks of side effects associated with medications and aggressive or invasive treatments. Patients who see a Doctor of Physical Therapy are saving themselves the hassle of ongoing frustration and medical bills from treatments that don’t work.
The five types of treatments below will be tailored to the individual patient and used in various combinations, based on the patient’s condition.
Treatment #1: Strengthening Exercises
Shoulder conditions are often caused and worsened by weak shoulder muscles. Performing certain sports, activities, and work-related tasks with unconditioned muscles increases the risk of shoulder injuries.
Muscular imbalances in the shoulder are common. Typically, the muscles in the front of the shoulders are stronger than those in the back of the shoulders.
Your physical therapist will assess which of your muscles need more work and provide you exercises to strengthen the trapezius, rhomboid, rotator cuff, and surrounding muscles.
Treatment #2: Mobility Exercises
Don’t just chalk it up to aging – the inability to reach or throw as far as you used to has a simple solution: mobility exercises.
Your physical therapist will determine where you’re locking up and tailor your mobility exercises to mobilize the stiff areas in your shoulder. These exercises will involve shoulder flexion and extension and internal and external rotation.
Treatment #3: Massage & Myofascial Release
Have you ever gone to a massage therapist who conducted a series of tests beforehand to determine where you were tight and the cause of the tightness? We didn’t think so.
The great part about seeing a physical therapist for massage and myofascial release is that the physical therapist knows what had caused your condition, including which areas of the shoulder need the most work, from the initial testing.
A Doctor of Physical Therapy who offers Myofascial Release is often one of the best in their field. Myofascial Release is a technique where a Doctor of Physical Therapy applies gentle pressure on the myofascial connective tissue with his or her hands to relieve pain and increase your mobility.
A Doctor of Physical Therapy who is up-to-date with the latest leading treatments will use massage and Myofascial Release. These techniques can speed up your healing process and reduce your pain safely and naturally.
Treatment #4: Joint Mobilization & Manipulation
Joints are a real nuisance when they are stiff. Mobility exercises are a great way to decrease stiffness but can take a while to work. When a patient is looking for immediate relief, a highly trained Doctor of Physical Therapy may perform joint mobilization or manipulation.
Joint mobilization is a conservative style of manual therapy in which a Doctor of Physical Therapy uses his or her hands to slowly move a joint in one direction. This technique decreases stiffness and stretches the joint.
Joint manipulation is a technique in which a Doctor of Physical Therapy uses his or her hands (or a tool) to place a controlled thrust on the joint so that the pain is promptly alleviated. During joint manipulation, a patient may hear a cracking or popping sound alongside the thrust.
Joint mobilization and manipulation are both considered safer when performed by trained physical therapists rather than chiropractors because chiropractors usually mobilize the joint in a more aggressive manner.
Not all physical therapists perform advanced manual therapy techniques such as joint mobilization and manipulation. If you believe your shoulder condition is caused by stiff joints, you may find the best care by seeking a Doctor of Physical Therapy who specializes in these treatment options.
Here’s how a quick video on why most shoulder pain occurs and how mobilizing the thoracic spine can heal your shoulder:
Treatment #5: Patient Education
Part of a physical therapist’s job is to educate a patient about ways to improve their condition at home, such as changing their habits or improving their posture while sitting, standing, or performing activities such as sports.
If a patient with shoulder pain is a golfer, for example, a physical therapist will analyze the patient’s golf swing and give the patient tips on how to swing more efficiently. Once the patient’s golf swing is corrected, the patient may enjoy pain-free and mobile shoulders, as well as improved golf performance.
What Can You Expect? A Treatment that Actually Works!
Physical therapy for shoulder conditions is widely regarded by medical professionals as the best course of action for healing. At physical therapy, you can expect an accurate diagnosis and a treatment that will fix the cause (not just the symptoms).
An Accurate Diagnosis
Don’t try this at home! Symptoms of certain shoulder conditions will mirror those of other shoulder conditions, but the treatment for each condition will vary. A physical therapist has the training and education to give you an accurate diagnosis.
Your physical therapist will determine which condition you have by asking questions, listening to your story, and taking you through a physical examination that will test your strength and range of motion.
The questions and testing are used to pinpoint your condition. Other medical professionals may not have the ability to specify your condition further than “generalized shoulder pain,” but a physical therapist can determine your exact condition. For example, your physical therapist may diagnose you specifically with a condition such as a rotator cuff tear, shoulder impingement, strained muscle, etc.
A physical therapist’s ability to give you an accurate diagnosis means that you will receive the appropriate care to treat your condition.
Fixing the Cause to Treat the Symptoms
Are you tired of treating the symptoms, only to have them return? A physical therapist has the knowledge to pinpoint and fix the cause of your condition, so your symptoms will stop reoccurring.
Your physical therapist will examine factors such as your posture, muscular imbalances, lifting technique, sport-related techniques, or flexibility level, to detect the cause of your condition.
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