Published: July 9, 2008
Updated: July 9, 2008
By Megan Southwick
The shoulder behaves differently than other joints.
As you age, joints and tissues degenerate, tear, and begin to hurt -- not necessarily because you did anything wrong or were injured, but simply because the joint is wearing down.
The pace of shoulder degeneration can be influenced by a lot of factors, including everyday aging.
Watch a video of a presentation on shoulder pain from Duke Raleigh Hospital’s ongoing Healthy Focus lecture series or read more about shoulder pain and treatments below.
The medical term for getting older is senescent change. Examples of this include your hair going grey or losing some of your hair. These changes just mean that you are aging.
While grey hair doesn’t hurt anything except your vanity, shoulder pain can affect much more than that.
As we age, the following can occur:
Bone spurs in the shoulder grow like mulberries, just little growths on the outside of the bone. If you are one of the unlucky ones that a spur hurts, you will be in a lot of pain because of the anatomy of the shoulder. Bone spurs that form in the shoulder get in the way a lot more than a spur that might form elsewhere in the body.
If your tendon deteriorates and tears, the muscle it’s attached to isn’t going to work properly – or it’s going to hurt when it has to work.
Tendon tears can cause bursitis, which in turn can create more tendon tears – resulting in a circular pattern of shoulder pain.
Different types of pain could indicate the seriousness of a shoulder problem.
Staying active is key to sustaining musculoskeletal health. If you retreat from pain by retreating from activity, you may feel better in the short term, but this is not a healthy strategy in the long run.
If you can’t perform basic strength training exercises and activities, try taking to the water, where the strain on your joints is lessened by the buoyancy. If you really can’t move or are in a lot of pain, seek out a physician, either your primary care physician or an orthopaedic surgeon.
An orthopaedic surgeon will make a thorough assessment of your shoulder to figure out why you are in pain. She may order some imaging studies, such as x-rays and MRIs that can help her pinpoint the problem and direct treatment.
Treatments may be as simple as physical therapy or cortisone injections, or they may involve surgery. The important thing to remember is that the shoulder can be managed so that pain is lessened and your quality of life improves.