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What’s causing my shoulder to ache?

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If you find yourself rubbing your shoulder after reaching up for a coffee mug on the shelf or climbing into a pickup cab, you’re among millions of Americans — particularly those over age 60 — with a shoulder issue. Shoulder pain could be a sign of arthritis, tendinitis, a rotator cuff tear or shoulder instability.

Whatever the cause, you might want to consult with an orthopedic professional. That first meeting could include an X-ray to determine the underlying cause and extent of your shoulder issue. Sometimes additional imaging, such as an MRI, might be needed.

Your orthopedic provider will walk you through treatment options. The first line of treatment can include:

>> Over-the-counter anti- inflammatory medication

>> Resting the affected shoulder/arm

>> Icing the shoulder

>> Modifying activities

>> Steroid injection

>> Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder and arm

Many studies show that people with shoulder injuries respond well to these treatments and can go about their daily activities. However, if you’re still experiencing pain and weakness, your orthopedic provider might recommend surgery.

One common issue is a rotator cuff tear. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that holds the shoulder joint in place and assists in arm motion and strength. A tear might require surgery, although the vast majority don’t.

Typically, surgery is outpatient, and you can go home the same day. It involves inserting a tiny camera (arthroscope) and tools through small incisions to reattach the torn tendon to the bone. You might need to wear a sling for four to six weeks afterward to allow your shoulder to heal.

After that, you might still have work restrictions and might need to modify your activity. Your orthopedic provider also may recommend physical therapy.

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