Pain in the shoulder or elbow isn’t just for pitchers and quarterbacks. If you’re a golfer or tennis player gearing up for the spring and summer, you may already know that. But even if you aren’t, persistent or recurring pain in the shoulder or elbow joints is something that affects many Americans due to overuse or age-related wear and tear.
It’s important to keep one thing in mind, though.
“No matter how old you are or what your lifestyle is like, ongoing pain in the shoulder or elbow is never something that should be considered normal,” said Robert Berry, DO, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and medical director of sports medicine on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano.
The shoulder is the most movable joint in the body, and the elbow is one of the most heavily utilized. That all adds up to a lot of opportunity for injury.
Some of the more common shoulder injuries include:
- Dislocation (it is the most dislocated major joint in the body)
- Tendinitis – when tendons in the shoulder become inflamed.
- Torn rotator cuff – a tear in the series of tendons that holds the upper arm together with the joint.
Meanwhile, common elbow problems include:
- Bursitis — fluid build-up in a sac-like tissue behind the elbow
- Cubital tunnel syndrome — a pinched nerve in the elbow
- Tennis or golfer’s elbow — inflammation in elbow tendons that attach to the lower part of the arm.
Despite the name, only a small percentage of cases of tennis and golfer’s elbow are linked to these activities. They are often brought on by overuse and can happen to anyone. The same goes for many shoulder injuries.
While most everyone will experience fleeting pain in the shoulder or elbow at some point during their lives, pain that doesn’t go away after a few weeks of rest needs to be examined by an orthopedic specialist.
“Depending on the cause, some pain can be managed by traditional physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medicine,” Dr. Berry said. “However, some injuries may require minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.”
Dr. Berry also says that there are exciting new procedures that enhance the body’s ability to heal itself. For example, platelet-rich plasma uses a patient’s own blood to help heal damaged tissues, while stem cell therapy uses healthy regenerative cells to promote recovery from injury.