The human shoulder is truly a feat to behold. We tend to take our bodies for granted, while we should be in awe of just how complex a machine it is. The shoulder is just one example of the fine-tuned parts that allow us to interact with the world around us.

Just like the parts of a car that sometimes needed to be worked on and fixed, the parts of the body are no different. The shoulder is one of these parts that can require a tremendous amount of maintenance due to the fact that it has so much going on inside.

The shoulder itself can be broken down into three main parts which include the scapula or shoulder blade, the clavicle or collarbone, and the humerus or upper arm bone. To allow these three main bodies to operate together at full capacity, a network of interrelated muscle groups, tendons, and ligaments attach to these bones and allow for full range of motion and function.

The main joint of the shoulder is the incredibly complex glenohumeral joint, also known as the shoulder joint. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick to calling it the shoulder joint.

This ball and socket joint is responsible for a tremendous amount of range of motion and is actually the most mobile joint of the entire body. To understand how this joint is capable of such incredible movement, we must first look at the anatomy of the joint.

The shoulder joint is so aptly known as a ball and socket joint because of its two main components, which include the ball of the head of the humerus and the socket of the scapula.

Unlike most joints which tend to have a more intimate bone on bone contact, the ball of the humerus is covered by a capsule that creates a spacer between the head of the upper arm bone and the socket bone of the shoulder blade. The only envelope of cartilage provides a smooth surface that reduces friction, allowing for us to move our arms in virtually every direction including the ability to competent rotate our arms 360 degrees along the ball and socket joint.

man touching his injured shoulder with hand

The capsule is just one of several accessories found within the shoulder joint that aid in stability, strength and range of motion. Around that extreme useful capsule are pillows of fluid-filled sacs known as bursae. These fluid sacs which work as shock absorbers, limit the force put on the ball and socket.

Synovial fluid, which fills the bursae, also floats freely within the joint creating a liquid medium for additional shock absorption as well as allowing for lubrication to maintain healthy bones. They are some of the key players found within the joint, but the ligaments and muscles on the outside that attach to the joint are just as crucial in establishing the hub of rotation that is the shoulder joint.

There are six shoulder ligaments which anchor the humerus to the scapula, strengthen the humerus, scapula, and clavicle, anchors tendons of the biceps to the area, and protects certain aspects of all of the bones. The muscles within the area work to provide structural support and also make up the incredible feats of range of motion that is the rotator cuff.


Common Shoulder Injuries and Treatments

With the nature of complexity that comes with the shoulder, there are a vast array of different injuries that can impact the problem area.

The following are some of the most common types of shoulder injuries and what can be done to treat each condition.

physiotherapist giving shoulder massage blonde woman


Dislocation


This unfortunate and often painful circumstance occurs when the upper head of the humerus pops out of its scapular socket.

To begin shoulder injury treatment for this type of injury, the humerus must be popped back into place. In order to prevent further complication and a possible tearing of surrounding ligaments, you should visit a trained medical professional to relocate the ball of your upper arm back into the shoulder blade socket.


Separation


While a dislocation deals with the shoulder blade and arm bone, a separation involves the shoulder blade and collarbone. This physical separation usually involves the collarbone being pushed upward and away from the shoulder blade

This type of shoulder injury can usually be treated by popping the separation back into place. It is best for a doctor to perform this treatment.

Sometimes, however, the ligaments attaching the shoulder blade to the collarbone can tear — resulting in a separation of the two bones that will most likely require surgery in order to correct.


Fracture


A clean break or fracture of varying degrees is most common around the head of the humerus or the collarbone.

Usually caused by a direct blow to either of the bones, treatment for this shoulder injury will require complete immobilization of the affected side of the body by means of an arm sling.

The most common sign of a collarbone break is a bump on the top of a collarbone which may or may not coincide with a noticeable sagging of the arm. If an arm sling does not improve the condition and lead to adequate healing, surgery may be required.


Joint Tear


This unfortunate issue occurs when the capsule surrounding the head of the humerus within the socket of the shoulder blade receives trauma of some kind, like a rupture of its cartilage fibers.

A capsule tear can be the result of a direct blow to the area but is usually an overuse issue.

Performing the same exact rotating movements along the ball and socket joint can start to weaken the capsule responsible for reducing friction between the bones.

Clear signs of a capsule tear are pain deep within the joint and possible grinding sensations. These unfortunate sensations are due to the shoulder blade and humerus head no longer having the shock absorbing buffer that is the capsule. Without this cartilage, direct contact between the two bones can result in long-term issues, such as arthritis.


Rotator Cuff Tear


One of the more common shoulder injuries you hear about occurs with the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is the grouping of muscles and tendons that hold your shoulder in place and allow the full rotation of the arm around the ball and socket joint.

A tearing of the rotator cuff usually brings with it a sharp pain and popping sound.

A partial tear of the rotator cuff can usually be treated with physical therapy to allow the body to heal while carefully strengthening the area to prevent future tears.

A full tear where the tendons attaching the muscle become completely detached from the surrounding bone will usually require arthroscopic surgery. With surgery, the tendons will be reattached to the bone. The arm will be put into a sling to allow for optimal healing without the risk of further injury.

After proper healing, physical therapy will be recommended to strengthen the area.


RICE for Healing


R

Rest

I

Ice

C

Compression

E

Elevation

Immediately following trauma or injury to the shoulder area, the RICE method of injury treatment should be utilized. These important self-treatments can drastically improve your prognosis and aid in the healing process.

The R is for rest. After injury, you should do all that you can to avoid using the affected shoulder. This can be easier said than done but putting the affected arm in a sling can force yourself to avoid using the damaged shoulder.

I is for ice and applying the frozen healing promoter can reduce swelling and keep much-needed blood in the area. The more blood flows to the damaged shoulder the better, as it brings with it a wide variety of natural healing factors than can immediately begin the healing process. Ice can be applied up to 8 times a day for 20-minute increments.

Compression is the C of RICE. A compression sleeve made for the tricky shoulder area can further decrease swelling and allow for more blood flow to the area.

The final component of RICE is the E for elevation. Rest the shoulder on a pillow to ensure that it remains above the heart. This will greatly improve blood flow to the area even more so than ice and compression alone.

shoulder massage


Key Takeaways from Shoulder Injury Treatment

The shoulder is a very complex area. With this complexity comes a wide range of possible issues that can affect all parts of the shoulder. With any possible shoulder injuries, immediate medical attention should be utilized.

Some issues such a dislocation and separation can be physically put back into place and reset, but often times, accompanying tendon and ligament tears mean that surgery is the best option to correct the issue.

Utilizing the RICE method, as with many bone and joint injuries, can greatly improve your prognosis and improve the likelihood of a full recovery.

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