Treating shoulder pain doesn’t always require surgery

shoulder pain

Shoulder pain can be extremely debilitating. Just ask someone who has a torn rotator cuff. Everyday activities like carrying a bag, washing your hair, reaching for something above you, etc. become difficult. Basically, anything that requires lifting your arms above your head is suddenly painful.

But while rotator cuff injuries are very common in athletes, the rest of us can be at risk as well. In fact, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, around two million people see orthopedic surgeons every year seeking treatment for a rotator cuff injury.

That’s why Brody Flanagin, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder and elbow injuries on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, is hosting a seminar on this topic, Tuesday, April 15. This free event is open to anyone who’s interested.


The rotator cuff is a series of four tendons in the shoulder that hold the ball in place against the socket so the deltoid, the large muscle on the side of your shoulder, can lift your arm. Rotator cuff injuries [VIDEO] are very common. Dr. Flanagin says that a rotator cuff tear is usually the result of either a traumatic injury or degeneration, meaning that the injury happens over time due to wear and tear, mostly in people over the age of 50.

“We typically see rotator cuff injuries in people who do a lot of overhead repetitive motion,” explains Dr. Flanagin.

For example, we’ve already mentioned athletes, but those who work in carpentry or painting may be at risk as well. “It’s also important to note that the risk of a rotator cuff tear increases as you age.”

Dr. Flanagin says that although rotator cuff injuries are extremely common, there are some people who have them, but never know about them.

“There is actually a group of people who do not experience pain from a torn rotator cuff, believe it or not,” explains Dr. Flanagin.

Dr. Flanagin says there have been multiple studies on this phenomenon of asymptomatic rotator cuff injuries. Groups of people without any pain have been evaluated by MRIs and were found to have a torn rotator cuff, but they weren’t aware of it because it never bothered them.

“In those cases, we don’t treat the injury because there is no need to if it’s not affecting them,” explains Dr. Flanagin.

So if you do have a rotator cuff injury, how do you know? Dr. Flanagin says to look for the following:

  • Shoulder pain that occurs out of nowhere and gradually gets worse
  • Pain that doesn’t improve with activity modification or “watchful waiting”
  • Shoulder pain that persists even while you sleep and wakes you up at night

Not all rotator cuff injuries are the same; therefore they are all treated differently. Dr. Flanagin says the most common forms of treatment are:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Activity modifications, such as avoiding a particular sport or certain motions to minimize pain
  • Injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Finally, surgery is recommended for cases that do not respond to the treatments listed above or in cases where it is needed right away such as in a traumatic injury

If you are currently experiencing shoulder pain, learn about potential treatment options from Dr. Brody Flanagin at the Living with Shoulder and Elbow Pain seminar Tuesday, April 15, from 7-8 p.m., at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital, Cree Auditorium.

About the author

Ashley Howland
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Ashley works in digital communications and social media. She enjoys covering health care news and is interested in health care social media.

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Treating shoulder pain doesn’t always require surgery