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Shoulder Pain: Surgery Alternatives

Our shoulders are unique, powerful, and complex parts of our bodies. Tendons, ligaments, and muscles connect the collarbone, shoulder blade, and upper arm bone. All these different parts make it possible to move your shoulder in a variety of different ways. Unfortunately, this also makes it highly prone to injury. In fact, shoulders are the most commonly injured joint in the body. 

If you’re feeling pain in one or both of your shoulders, you may have a shoulder injury. Pain can be caused by inflammation, overuse, or physical trauma. The areas surrounding the shoulder, such as the neck, back, or arms, can also cause pain in the shoulder. If any of these areas have experienced physical trauma, inflammation, or overuse, the effect can appear in the shoulder. 

Often, when people realize they’re experiencing shoulder pain, they think surgery is their best option. While there are many instances where surgery is helpful, it’s best to use as a last resort. There are many alternatives to try before surgery. Here are five ways to deal with shoulder pain and avoid shoulder surgery: 

1. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy helps with shoulder pain by increasing flexibility and strength in the shoulder. It can include stretching and exercises, heat, ice, taping, and ultrasound. All of these things can be used in conjunction to help with your issue. 

The benefit of physical therapy is that you have an expert guiding you in treatment plans for your specific issue. Every individual body is different, so your physical therapist will customize the therapy to help with your problem. Therapists can also advise you on modifying your daily routines and activities to prevent further stress on your shoulder. 

2. Massage

Massage can be a part of physical therapy, but it can also be something you do at home on your own. If you have minor shoulder pain and you’re not yet ready to reach out to a physical therapist, try massaging your shoulder. If your pain improves with massage, tight muscles are likely the cause of your pain, and you simply need to massage and stretch regularly to prevent further pain. 

To massage your shoulder, lie on your side with a foam roller underneath your body, resting on your shoulder. Then, slowly roll up and down over the shoulder muscle. You can reach your opposite arm out for stability if you need more support. 

When doing a massage at home, it’s important to take it relatively easy. If you have a serious injury, you’ll want an expert’s help rather than figuring it out yourself. A deep massage could cause more harm to an injury. While you’re massaging, ease up or stop altogether if you feel a sharp pain.

3. Stretching

In addition to massage, stretching will help loosen your muscles and relieve your pain. It’s perfect for treating pain caused by tightness and lack of flexibility. While stretching, it’s crucial to pay attention to any discomfort and stop if you feel any sharp pain. Perform these four stretches regularly to help with your shoulder pain: 

  • Neck Release

Tension in the neck can be a source of shoulder pain. To release tension, perform this stretch. Start by lowering your chin toward your chest until you feel a stretch along the back of your neck. Then gently roll your head toward your left shoulder and hold for up to a minute. Then repeat on the opposite side to ensure both shoulders are stretched equally.

  • ​​Seated Twist

To perform this stretch, sit in a chair with your ankles directly below your knees. Then twist your upper body to the left side, placing the back of your right hand to your thigh. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds before releasing. Then repeat with the opposite side. 

  • ​​Shoulder Circles

This exercise warms up your shoulders and improves flexibility. You should do this exercise before any activity that requires a lot of work from your shoulders. First, stand with one hand on the back of the chair, with your opposite arm hanging down. Move the arm that’s hanging down in a circle five times in one direction and five times in the opposite direction. Then, repeat with the other arm. 

  • ​​Child’s Pose

This stretch is a popular part of yoga. It’s easy to do, relaxing to the entire body, and offers a great shoulder stretch. To perform this stretch, first kneel on the floor with your toes together and knees hip-width apart. Then, lower your torso between your knees, and extend your arms forward with your palms facing down. Relax your shoulders and remain in this pose for as long as you wish. 

4. Anti-Inflammatories 

Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin can be bought at any drugstore and have a huge impact on reducing the inflammation in your shoulder. In addition to reducing inflammation, these medications will help you manage the pain. 

In addition to anti-inflammatory medication, nutritional changes can help reduce inflammation in your shoulder. Dietary changes won’t solve the problem overnight, but a consistent diet containing anti-inflammatory foods can keep inflammation at bay. 

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fatty fish are all known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Try incorporating more berries, greens, salmon, tuna, almonds, and walnuts. Also try adding spices like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon into your foods when you can. In addition to eating more of these nutritious foods, make an effort to reduce processed food and foods containing an excess of refined sugar. 

5. Injections

Percutaneous Tenotomy

This simple and effective treatment provides outpatient convenience through needle-based injections into tendons. By repeatedly breaking apart scar tissue with tiny holes, cells within tendons begin to regenerate new and healthy tendon tissue. This non-invasive method can aid patients experiencing tennis elbow, chronic tendon damage, golfer’s elbow, runner’s knee, or plantar fasciitis.

Ultrasound imaging helps specialists pinpoint damaged tendons to quickly and accurately break down and remove any damaged tissue. Any healthy and undamaged tissue is left unharmed due to the precise and minimally invasive incision above the affected tendon, abolishing any need for stitches or arduous recovery windows. Once completed, patients can leave with a simple adhesive bandage until any follow-up appointments are required.

Regen/Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections

As a common goal throughout regenerative medicine practices, allowing the body to naturally heal and regenerate tissue growth can amplify the body's ability to heal over time. Stimulating this process with platelets, also known as thrombocytes, enables blood cells to naturally clot, causing natural means for the body to begin healing. The plasma portion of these injections act as a natural highway for the red and white blood cells, as well as patient-derived platelets, which target the tendons, ligaments, joints, and muscles.

With the use of a centrifuge to segregate platelets from a patient’s own blood, concentrated amounts of platelets and plasma are injected into targeted areas to encourage faster, more efficient healing. An ultrasound then guides specialists toward any areas of damaged tissue, ensuring accuracy while mitigating the need for more invasive procedures. 

Corticosteroid Injection

A common and effective treatment for shoulder pain is a corticosteroid injection. This injection is a drug that resembles cortisol, which is a naturally occurring hormone that helps reduce inflammation. A steroid injection can go a long way in reducing stiffness, inflammation, and pain in the shoulder. 

Another type of injection is a perineural injection. A perineural injection is typically administered in a series of small doses. It’s placed under the skin in the area where you’re experiencing the most pain. The main goal of this type of injection is pain relief. It’s made from a natural substance that can reduce or even completely eliminate the pain in your shoulder. 

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, reach out to an expert to get relief. Catching shoulder issues early is a crucial step in preventing the future need for surgery.

About the author

Eastern Idaho Spine, Sports, and Rehab Center