There are many problems that can occur in the shoulder that can make it difficult or too painful to lift or move your shoulder. More often than not this is due to an issue with the rotator cuff or the “bursa” which sits above the rotator cuff.

One of the most common causes of pain in your shoulder or arm that makes it difficult to move or lift are rotator cuff injuries.

The group of tendons and muscles in your rotator cuff help provide stability and allow your shoulder to rotate. Injuries to these tendons and muscles can result in pain that is severe enough to prevent you from raising your arm or moving your shoulder, limiting your normal daily activities. There are several types of rotator cuff injuries that can cause varying degrees of pain.

The rotator cuff and bursa are the most common cause of pain and loss of motion in the adult shoulder. Rotator cuff pain is the number one reason why you have pain on the outside or top of your arm.  It is also the main reason why you may not be able to lift or move your arm.

Shoulder pain could also be brought on by injury. Believe it or not, traumatic injuries are a less frequent cause of shoulder pain.  Rotator cuff injuries can be caused by chronic repetitive stress from working out, throwing or overhead sports.  Rotator cuff injuries can also be caused by a fall, or perhaps even a long day gardening or painting your house. It is not unusual to lose the ability to move your shoulder after a long day of chores that you don’t typically perform. 

The most common causes of shoulder pain and loss of motion are:

rotator cuff tendonitis:

In people under 30 years of age, including youngsters, the most common cause of shoulder pain is because of rotator cuff tendonitis.  This simply means that the rotator cuff is inflamed from performing too much activity.

rotator cuff tears

-AC Joint Arthritis: The AC Joint is a small joint on top of your shoulder.  It is where your collar bone meets the shoulder blade.  Many people notice a small bump above their shoulder.  That is the AC joint. Over time that joint can suffer from arthritis.  Arthritis of the AC joint is the number one cause of pain on top of the shoulder.  If the pain from the AC joint is severe enough it will cause pain when trying to lift your arm or move your shoulder.

calcific tendonitis: Calcific tendonitis of the rotator cuff can be a VERY painful entity.    In this situation, calcium crystals deposit inside the tendon itself.  That leads to a significant increase in the number of nerves in that area, and that causes severe pain. 

-adhesive capsulitis or a frozen shoulder: Adhesive capsulitis or a frozen shoulder is a very common cause pain and of loss of motion of the shoulder. A frozen shoulder causes pain all around the shoulder.  The pain can be on the top of the shoulder, or the pain can be underneath the shoulder in the axilla.

Rotator Cuff Tendinosis; In people over 30 years, rotator cuff tendonitis is rare and rotator cuff tendinosis starts to become a more common cause shoulder pain which hurts when we try to lift our arm or shoulder.

What Is The Treatment For these conditions?

Initially, non-surgical management is started to address your pain and improve your quality of life.  Many people with these limiting conditions can be successfully treated with:

  • Physical Therapy. Since physiotherapists are considered movement specialists, they are considered first treatment choice for these conditions that affect your shoulder”movement”.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Activity modification and rest
  • A cortisone or steroid injection.

If symptoms persist, surgery might be an option.


Written By:
Sharanya Thomas     
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

 Help! I Cannot Raise My Arm Above My Head

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