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Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain: A Complete Guide


Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain: A Complete Guide

Shoulder pain is a common health problem affecting about 20% of adults. Even the slightest discomfort can affect your day-to-day life and hinder everyday activities and tasks.


The shoulder is one of the mobile joints in the body, meaning that the trauma can occur quite easily due to overuse. It's also very susceptible to injury. Physical therapy for shoulder pain is one of the best courses of treatment. Patients who have had surgery and those who suffer from pain due to chronic conditions or minor injuries can benefit immensely.


It's essential to take action and address the problem right away to avoid worsening, and many professionals recommend physical therapy for shoulder pain.


Common Injuries that Lead to Shoulder Pain Physical Therapy Treatment


The first step to treating shoulder pain is understanding its causes which are generally classified as sudden injuries and injuries caused by overuse.

Common Injuries that Lead to Shoulder Pain Physical Therapy Treatment

Traumatic injuries, repetitive motion, age, wear, and tear, as well as specific disorders, can cause shoulder pain while exercising, moving, and sleeping.


Sudden Shoulder Injuries


Sudden shoulder injuries can occur from any activity from sudden movement when exercising, stretching, or twisting the shoulder when cleaning the house, or simply tripping and falling. All these will result in the need for shoulder physical therapy.


Such acute shoulder injury will likely cause swelling, bruising, tingling, or numbness in the area.


Sudden shoulder injuries include:


  • The torn rotator cuff is caused by trauma during sports activities or exercise.

  • A clavicle fracture is another acute injury usually caused by falling and damaging the shoulder. It can happen during activities like skiing or biking or accidents.

  • Shoulder dislocation occurs by an extreme shoulder rotation caused by falls, accidents, or sports traumas. Patients feel intense pain, weakness, and numbness and can see the shoulder visibly out o place.

  • A shoulder separation occurs when the clavicle join and the scapula experience trauma. It causes pain, instability, and general discomfort. A bump is often visible too.

  • Lighter bruises or injured tendons, ligaments, and strained muscles can also cause sudden shoulder injury.

  • Broken shoulder bones.


The most common symptoms of sudden shoulder injuries include severe sharp pain that may radiate to the arm, a feeling of something being torn, rapid swelling of the shoulder joint, and inability to move your arm. Including physical therapy for shoulder pain in the treatment plan is vital.


Overuse Shoulder Injuries


Another category of shoulder injuries is overuse injuries that develop over time and are influenced by everyday activities. The shoulder joint or the tissue around it experiences a lot of stress and, at one point, manifests as pain that requires physical therapy for shoulder pain.

Overuse Shoulder Injuries

Overuse shoulder injuries include:


  • Arthritis is a common shoulder injury that happens after the shoulder cartilage wears off, exposing the bare bone or shoulder joint narrows, causing spurs.

  • Bursitis occurs when the fluid sac cushioning and lubricating the shoulder joint becomes inflamed.

  • A frozen shoulder causes motion loss in the shoulder as it becomes difficult or impossible to lift the arm over the head, reach across the body, or behind the back.

  • Tendonitis is an inflammation of the shoulder tendons.

  • Impingement syndrome is quite common and happens when the tendons rub against a part of the shoulder blade and cause inflammation.

  • Infection, herniated disc, or calcium buildup can also cause shoulder injury.


The most common symptoms of overuse shoulder injuries include severe sharp or dull pain, swelling, and reduced or limited range of motion.


Shoulder Pain Diagnosis for Physical Therapy


A proper diagnosis is necessary to successfully treat shoulder pain and prescribe effective PT for shoulder pain. The treatment is then selected based on the symptoms and conditions of the patient by creating an individualized plan for the particular shoulder problem.


The PT evaluation will include determining the type of pain, and its location, whether the pain moves to the arm or other parts of the body, what actions intensify or reduce the pain, and how limited is the range of motion.

Shoulder Pain Diagnosis for Physical Therapy

Your therapist will also evaluate your medical history and see if there's swelling or bruising. Be prepared to answer questions and give them as much information as possible.


If the physical therapist determines that the cause of the pain is a serious illness, they will refer you to an MD who will run various imaging tests like MRI and X-ray and run bloodwork.


Shoulder Physical Therapy


Physical therapy for shoulder injuries and physiotherapy for shoulder pain are effective treatments to relieve shoulder pain and restore and improve mobility. After your physical therapist examines your functional abilities and discusses your treatment goals, they will create a personalized treatment plan to relieve your shoulder pain, restore mobility, and improve your quality of life.


Physical therapy can prevent costly surgery or medication treatment, which will help you save money and avoid the side effects of medication.

Shoulder Physical Therapy

It's imperative to keep in mind that the sooner you address your shoulder pain and start physical therapy for shoulder pain, the bigger the success rate of treatment will be. It is vital for the elderly because, according to studies, the success rate decreases as the patient's age increases.


Physical Therapy Treatments for Shoulder Pain


Your individual shoulder physical therapy will depend on the specifics of your shoulder injury but may include the following types of treatment:


  • Heat and/or ice therapy is commonly used to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain and relax muscles.

  • Hands-on therapy uses pressure on the tissue to help it regain and improve mobility.

  • A therapeutic ultrasound treats muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue with deep heating. It improves the circulation in the tissue, alleviating the pain and aiding healing as well as increasing the range of motion.

  • Joint mobilization helps increase mobility by stretching the joint capsule.

  • Electrical stimulation (TENS) strengthens the muscles by stimulating the nerves and can also help reduce inflammation.

  • Stretching pushes the muscles until the patient regains their range of motion.

  • Strengthening exercises are performed both during the PT appointments and at home when safe to reduce the pain and strengthen the muscles to prevent future injuries.

  • Activity modification and patient education are used to teach the patient how to safely perform daily activities to avoid further injury and speed up healing.


Simple Physical Therapy Exercises that Will Relieve Shoulder Pain


Physical therapy exercises prescribed by the therapist are an important part of the treatment program. When greenlit by the PT, some home exercises can also contribute to pain relief, prevent an injury from occurring or worsening and relieve stiffness or tension in the shoulder.

Simple Physical Therapy Exercises that Will Relieve Shoulder Pain

Always stay safe and don't push yourself too hard to not worsen your condition.


Physical exercises for shoulder pain include the following:


Doorway stretch. Stand in any doorway, raise each arm bent at 90-degree angles with palms forward, and place the palms on the door frame. Step forward with one foot, press your palms into the doorway, and lean forward slightly, engaging your core muscles. Repeat on the other side. Do a few repetitions. This exercise helps gently stretch the shoulders.


Pendulum. Res one hand resting on the back of a chair with the other hanging loosely. Circle the arm clockwise and counter-clockwise a few times and repeat on the other side. Do a few repetitions. This exercise will help warm up the shoulder.


Across the chest. Bring one arm across your chest and hold it with the other one pressing gently. Repeat with the other hand. It's a great warm-up exercise in the morning.


Seated twist. Sit on the floor or chair with your hips facing forward. Keep your knees in line with your ankles, and bring the opposite hand to rest on your thigh while twisting to one and then the other side. Hold each stretch for as long as it's comfortable and repeat a few times to release tension in the shoulders and neck.


Downward dog. Stand on your hands and knees and then press with your palms to lift up your hips. Keep your knees bent and distribute your weight evenly on all four corners (palms and feet) if needed. Keep the spine straight, and the head relaxed down. This exercise provides an excellent stretch for the spine and shoulders.


If you are interested you can find a more complete guide with exercises for shoulder pain provided by Miracle Rehab Clinic here.


FAQs About Shoulder Pain Physical Therapy


Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about shoulder pain physical therapy.


What Are Red Flags for Shoulder Pain?


If you notice swelling and redness and experience acute pain, you want to see a doctor or PT immediately. Long-term dull or recurring pain are also signs that something is wrong.


What Is the Most Common Diagnosis for Shoulder Pain?


The most common diagnoses are trauma and injury, arthritis, frozen shoulder, dislocation, and shoulder impingement.


Can Physical Therapy Make My Shoulder Pain Worse?


When performed by a professional, shoulder pain will not get worse. Avoiding therapy can prolong healing and cause additional problems.


How Long Does Physical Therapy Take for Shoulder Pain?


It depends on the patient, but generally, it takes 6-8 weeks.


How Many Times a Week Should I Do Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain?


2-3 times per week.


Final Thoughts


Physical therapy for shoulder pain is an effective way to treat sudden shoulder pain or pain from shoulder overuse. It can help avoid expensive surgery and medication.


Plus, it helps relieve pain, reduce inflammation, speeds up healing, increases range of motion, and helps get back to performing daily tasks with ease.

Physical therapists create an individual treatment plan for each patient to achieve the best results.


The treatment modalities include TENS, hands-on therapy, heat and ice, and exercises. Contact Miracle Rehab Clinic to find out more and book an appointment.

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