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Ouch! 5 Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

From arthritis to rotator cuff damage, why your shoulders may hurt and possible treatments

3. Bursitis

What it is: A diagnosis of bursitis means there is inflammation of the bursa, the tissue-thin sacs of fluid that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles in a joint. These sacs reduce friction and absorb shock when the joint moves. Bursitis can cause a dull ache that worsens with movements of the arm upward or to the side away from the body. Infection is extremely rare and typically occurs only in patients who have had surgery for the condition.

Causes: Bursitis is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain, according to J. Scott Quinby, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. The pain is often a result of repetitive motion — such as repetitive overhead reaching, or from sports such as basketball and swimming — that irritates the bursa and causes inflammation. Bursitis can also develop spontaneously.

Treatments: Resting the shoulder and avoiding activity or positions that cause pain is often the first course of treatment. Your doctor might prescribe a cortisone injection to reduce the inflammation and control the pain, followed by physical therapy. "If you don't strengthen the shoulder and correct the mechanics of the movements with physical therapy, the pain will keep coming back," Quinby says.

Surgery may be necessary when physical therapy and cortisone don't relieve the pain, but it is a simple outpatient procedure. However, if the condition continues untreated, it can result in tearing of the rotator cuff, which requires further surgery to repair.

4. Dislocated Shoulder

What it is: A dislocated shoulder is the result of the upper arm bone coming out of the shoulder socket, causing intense pain. The shoulder and position of the arm will appear deformed and may show signs of swelling or bruising, or cause numbness.

Causes: It takes significant trauma, such as a fall or car accident, to cause a dislocated shoulder. It is also common in sports.

Treatments: Doctors will often administer a mild muscle sedative before manually maneuvering the arm bone back into the shoulder socket. Once the dislocated shoulder is repaired, your doctor might suggest wearing a sling for a few weeks to immobilize the joint and reduce the likelihood of further damage. While it's relatively easy to put a dislocated shoulder back into place, the injury can cause damage to the rotator cuff that requires surgical repair. But adults rarely experience problems with recurring dislocations like younger patients do.

Next page: Frozen shoulder. »

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