Having suffered a shoulder injury earlier this year I started researching the subject on the internet and was surprised by how many different ways there are to injure your shoulders and just how common it is. Around thirty percent of us will injure one or more of our shoulders. The majority of those injuries fall into two categories. Wear and tear as we get older is by far the biggest followed closely by sporting injuries.
Anyone who throws or hits a ball in a sports activity is at risk of shoulder injury. Throwers shoulder as it is sometimes called is in fact a shoulder impingement. In the course of playing sports you manage to pull or tear one of the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles which help to stabilise and move the shoulder. Because they are all very close to each other and run over and under the bones of the shoulder back and chest any swelling in them caused by injury can result in the muscle being pinched or impinged.
Once you get a shoulder impingement the muscle is catching every time that you move it which results in more damage, more swelling and increased pain. This is what happened to me and what started out as a dull ache in my shoulder had turned into a debilitating level of pain within about three days. Any movement above shoulder level was excruciatingly painful and trying to reach behind me was almost impossible. I had torn one of the tendons on my supraspinatus muscle. This tendon ran under my collar bone and due to the swelling was catching on my collar bone every time that I made certain movements.
The doctor recommended an eight week course of high dosage Ibuprofen. By consistently taking a high dosage of anti-inflammatory drugs the aim is to keep the swelling down 24/7 so that the muscle gets a chance to heal without getting damaged any further. In minor injuries this may work but in my case unfortunately it didn’t, so the next step was a steroid injection deep into the muscle. Again the aim was to bring down the swelling and give the muscle a chance to heal on its own.
This appeared to work perfectly. Within two days of the injection I was pain free but as the days passed the inflammation and pain returned, not as bad as before but definitely back with a vengeance and deteriorating week by week. Eventually it was decided that I should undergo shoulder surgery. The aim was to shave a small piece of bone away from my collar bone to increase the gap through which the tendon moved. This would allow the inflamed muscle to move more freely and allow it to heal.
A date was set for 3 months away. We may not pay for health care in the UK but it comes with a price, a waiting list. Being impatient to get better I decided to research the subject to see what alternatives there were to surgery if any.
I discovered that conservative, non-surgical treatment of shoulder injuries and shoulder impingements focus very strongly on physiotherapy as the way to not only fix injuries but also to prevent future injuries. Because of their position, you tend not to use your rotator cuff muscles a great deal and as we age the blood and oxygen supply to them can reduce leaving them susceptible to injury. Through careful exercise it is possible to strengthen the muscles and improve the blood supply helping with the healing process.
After more research I started exercising my shoulder. Very carefully at first, avoiding any movement that caused pain or discomfort and gradually building up the range of movement and load on the muscles I exercised on a daily basis for six weeks and was surprised to find that my shoulder gradually improved until I had full movement and was free of pain.
Ten weeks on and I was able to play a round of golf without any problem, apart from taking too many shots. I have decided to postpone the operation for the time being to see if my good fortune lasts. So if you have a shoulder injury and don’t feel like exercising, think again. It might not work for everyone but it is well worth considering, but take it easy and remember no gain if you feel pain!
Shoulder Injuries Can Feel Like They Last Forever by Nick Bryant