My shoulder hurts! Now what?

“My shoulder hurts.”

I hear it all the time and people tell me they think pain is just part of getting older. It doesn’t have to be. There are many reasons why your shoulder may hurt.

If you have been diagnosed with bursitis, tendonitis, impingement, rotator cuff tear, arthritis, or instability, the good news is that most of these conditions will get better with physical therapy.

The fact is that those diagnoses are usually the result of a mechanical problem that no one thinks about until they hurt. Poor strength, posture, flexibility and movement patterns are what lead to most of these conditions.

As we age and stop being as active, work at computers or sit more at desks, our posture suffers.

We tend to slouch, rolling our shoulders forward, rounding our backs and sticking our heads up and out.

It looks like we “wear our shoulders as earrings.”

good-postureThis posture leads to weakness in the upper back and shoulder blade muscles as well as tightness in the front of the chest and the upper trapezius, leading to poor mechanics when raising our arms.

When you have this posture and lift your arm, you tend to pinch all the structures in the space between the ball and socket joint and the tip of the shoulder (the subacromial space). Those structures are your bursa, biceps tendon, rotator cuff muscles and tendons.

An experienced physical therapist can help evaluate the underlying mechanical CAUSE of your condition and help you formulate a plan to address it.    Don’t wait until the pain is bad.

The sooner you get help, the better chance you have of avoiding making the problem worse and potentially having surgery down the road.

Call your physical therapist today to help with your shoulder pain, and in the meantime, watch your posture.

Sit and stand up straight: chest out, shoulders down and back, tummy in and chin tucked…just like your mother told you!


Natalie Conway, PT, MPT, OCS, ATC is the Regional Director of the Gloucester locations of Tidewater Physical Therapy, which includes a clinic at Gloucester Point, on Main Street in Gloucester Courthouse and a Tidewater Performance Center.