Very often, patients see me for shoulder pain without any history of injury or trauma. They typically wait a long time to see a doctor in hopes that it will go away just as suddenly as it appeared. Moreover, they are confused by why this is happening to them since they have seemingly done nothing to instigate the pain.
To start, unfortunately, shoulder pain does not suddenly disappear without proper attention. So, anyone that is experiencing pain that does not go away with simple over the counter medications should see an orthopedic surgeon.
Next, a number of things can cause sudden shoulder pain without trauma. One is Rotator Cuff Diseases or Impingement. This is a condition where the rotator cuff tendons (responsible for the stabilization and movement of the shoulder) get pinched by a bone spur arising from a bone above. The bone spur (overgrowth of bone) insidiously develops and repetitive overhead activities or even sleeping awkwardly on the shoulder may spark the beginning of pain. The pain often can present at night, whenever raising the arm or with sudden movements. If this is diagnosed and treated in the early stages then it can, often, be managed very well with physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, activity modifications and, occasionally, an injection.
If the condition is allowed to simmer a while before seeing an orthopedic surgeon then the patient's pain may prevent them from moving their arm for fear of pain and that may progress into a frozen shoulder. A frozen shoulder is a contracture of the joint where scar tissue sets in and significantly limits the motion of the shoulder. Patients with diabetes or thyroid diseases have a higher likelihood of developing a frozen shoulder. Many patients first come in at this stage and, at this point, treatment may be more of an undertaking which includes a longer course of physical therapy, injections and possible minimally invasive surgery.
If the Rotator Cuff Impingement recurs or is long-standing then there is a possibility that this condition may lead to a full Rotator Cuff Tear. If this develops then minimally invasive Arthroscopic Surgery for a Rotator Cuff Repair becomes more likely. Moreover, if the Impingement recurs chronically with no relief utilizing conservative treatment (even without a tear) then minimally invasive Arthroscopic Surgery to remove the bone spur may ultimately be needed.
Of course, other reasons for sudden shoulder pain may include calcium deposits, muscle spasms, or even a pinched nerve (Cervical Disc Herniation). Therefore, anyone with sudden shoulder pain that does not promptly resolve with over the counter medications should be seen by an Orthopedic Surgeon without delay.
- Leon E. Popovitz, MD
Dr. Leon Popovitz and Dr. Michael Mizhiritsky, along with their team of best-in-class orthopedic physicians, are known for their exemplary orthopedic surgical skill and best-rated physical medicine and rehabilitation program. This, along with their top in-office physical therapy and long-term sports rehabilitation processes, leads to athletes of all levels returning to their top physical potential. Contact us today to schedule a consult!