Let’s talk about shoulder pain. Many people think of chiropractors only in the context of back pain, neck pain, and headaches because we have reams of research that prove that we do very well with these things. But it’s much less well known by the general population that chiropractors can be very effective at treating shoulders.
CAUSES OF SHOULDER PAIN
When we discuss shoulder pain, understand that, much like back pain, there are a lot of different causes. Your shoulder pain may not be like any of the types we will cover here. It is essential to get a correct diagnosis from your medical doctor, chiropractor, and physical therapist before you begin any treatment programs.
The shoulder is a complex collection of joints, muscles, and connective tissues designed to have extra range of motion compared to our hips, but what we give up in exchange for that range of motion is stability. Your hips are designed to be load-bearing all day; they have lots of stability but less range of motion. Your shoulders have a lot more range of motion, but they are also much more prone to injury because they have less stability.
One cause of shoulder injuries is gym workouts. Just about everything at the gym that involves your upper body has the potential to injure your shoulder, so it’s really important that you are careful, and dedicated, and focused while you’re at the gym on what you’re doing. We actually see fewer injuries from the gym than from the general activities of daily living, but many lifts do have the potential to injure your shoulder. We also see a lot of injuries from sleeping on your side on a firm mattress, which can compress the joint. Another cause of shoulder pain is taking a fall. Any kind of fall where you land onto your shoulder can obviously create injury.
THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR SHOULDER
A complex of joints makes up your shoulder. You have your glenohumeral joint, which is that ball and socket like a joint, which everyone thinks of because it is the primary joint of that shoulder. It’s held together with a lot of connective tissue, including the labrum, which goes underneath that ball and socket. Then we have two accessory joints. We have the acromioclavicular joint, which is where your clavicle comes across and attaches right next to that ball and socket joint. Then underneath what we have is your scapulothoracic joint, where your shoulder blades slide over your ribs. Again, it’s really, really important to make sure that that is moving correctly. Otherwise, you end up with inflammation in the soft tissues, and everything breaks down.
These are the three joints that chiropractors work on. Some people think the only way to rehab your shoulder is to rehab the muscles and the connective tissue. That’s not true. In 2010 and 2014, and again in 2018, researchers looked at chiropractors treating people with shoulder injuries, both pre-surgery, and post-surgery. They found that with as few as two adjustments, chiropractors were able to reduce pain, disability and increase the patients’ quality of life.
RESTORING NORMAL FUNCTION TO THE SHOULDERS
The goal is actually to get patients back to what they need to do. Function is not an across-the-board systematic metric. Function of your shoulder for an 18-year-old high school volleyball player is a whole lot different than function for an 80-year-old woman who just knits all day. There are a variety of different ways for us to get the shoulder joints moving again. We’re trying to restore the proper orientation of those joints. If they’re not connecting appropriately, if a bone is just a little bit out of position with another bone, you got a joint that doesn’t move properly. We can adjust all of those different joints to get a good outcome.
HOW CHIROPRACTORS TREAT SHOULDER PAIN
When chiropractors adjust those three joints in the shoulder, they will also adjust the neck, the upper back, and the ribs as they articulate with the thoracic spine because all of these things come into play when you’re moving your shoulder, because when your shoulder is not moving right, it affects so many other tissues.
Here at Nightlight Chiropractic, we do a variety of other things to help patients recover from their shoulder injuries. We realize that even though it’s not all about the soft tissues, it’s also not only all about the joints. We take a global approach to getting the shoulder moving again, adjusting all of the different joints. We also do other therapies, including electrical stimulation, where we use electrical pads to run electricity through the different muscle groups and ligaments. It increases blood supply without increasing heat, so it can be really good for many different conditions.
We do ultrasound for shoulder injuries as well. Ultrasound uses sound waves to penetrate deeper into the tissues, where they then turn into heat, increasing blood supply. Blood delivers oxygen to the tissues, and it helps to remove debris from the area, which allows your body to heal normally. Our goal is to get everything else out of the way so your body can do what it does best, which is to put new cells in the area and repair tissue. Our massage therapists also do manual therapy, not just to increase blood supply but also to restore normal tissue tone, which is really important to getting shoulders well. If you’re struggling with shoulder pain, we’d love to help you here at Nightlight Chiropractic. Call us for an appointment, and let’s get you on the path to healing and fully restored function.