Shoulder Girdle Pain Relief
Most people don’t think about their shoulders very often until they suddenly begin to experience shoulder pain. However, a sore shoulder can make simple actions such as combing hair, brushing teeth, opening a fridge door, or reaching for items on a shelf seem like arduous tasks. Shoulder pain can even disrupt a good night’s sleep.
Individuals are also more prone to shoulder pain as they get older for a number of different reasons. The most common causes include rotator cuff impingement, a rotator cuff tear, bursitis, tendonitis, arthritis, and even some forms of cancer such as lung cancer.
Shoulder pain may develop gradually or start abruptly due to a specific event (e.g., fall, awkward movement) and it may range from mild to moderate or severe to agonizing. Read on to learn about useful approaches that can help offer shoulder pain relief.
Common At-Home Strategies for Pain Relief
In most cases, shoulder girdle pain is mild to moderate and generally resolves on its own. The pain is usually temporary and often arises due to minor injuries, strains, or overuse. Common strategies that can be used at home for shoulder girdle pain relief include the following:
- Temporarily resting the affected shoulder
- Avoiding excessive shoulder movements or weight-bearing activities
- Alternating between a warm compress and an ice pack for 10 to 20 minutes at a time
- Wrapping or bandaging the area to create compression that reduces swelling
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen
For some people, the combination of hot-cold therapy and short-term NSAID use relieves shoulder pain, especially when the underlying cause was a minor issue. NSAIDs target inflammation that is linked to both pain and stiffness. This encourages gentle movement of the shoulder girdles, which is an important part of the healing process.
Hot and cold compresses are also beneficial because this method targets inflammation, swelling, and circulation problems. More specifically, a cold compress eases muscle spasms, lessens swelling, targets inflammation, and reduces pain by slowing down blood circulation. This decreases the body’s pain sensation.
A hot compress helps minimize pain by soothing tense muscles, boosting circulation, and improving flexibility. Heightened blood circulation transports nutrients and oxygen to the affected region. This is a key process that supports tissue healing and promotes the removal of harmful substances that are associated with inflammation and swelling. Therefore, alternating hot and cold compresses is typically quite effective at relieving minor shoulder blade pain.
Shoulder Girdle Pain Stretches
Chronic pain may discourage you from moving your shoulders freely, but reducing your level of activity can make shoulder girdle pain worse by causing muscles in this region to become shorter and stiffer. Over time, this will make it even more difficult to move your shoulders and arms properly.
The following exercises aim at stretching and strengthening muscles in your shoulder girdle region to help relieve pain.
Seated Shoulder Stretch
This technique stretches various structures in the shoulder. It is performed by doing the following steps:
Step 1 – Sit in an upright position with your back against a chair for support.
Step 2 – Place your right hand on your left shoulder.
Step 3 – While leaving your right hand in place, cup your right elbow with your left hand.
Step 4 – Slowly roll your shoulders down and then back. Gently pull your right elbow across your chest and slowly extend your right arm.
Step 5 – Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Step 6 – Return to the starting position and then repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Perform 2 to 4 repetitions with each arm. You should feel a gentle stretch in your shoulder as well as your shoulder blade.
Seated Chest Stretch
This exercise stretches the shoulders and the chest. It involves the following steps:
Step 1 – Sit upright in a chair facing sideways. Make sure the chair does not have arms.
Step 2 – Roll the shoulders down and back. Bring your arms behind you and clasp your fingers together with your palms facing your body.
Step 3 – Gently lift your arms up toward the ceiling until you begin to feel tightness.
Step 4 – Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds and then return to the starting position.
Step 5 – Repeat the stretch 2 to 4 times.
The stretch should gently pull the muscles in your chest as well as your shoulders. Do not lift the arms up to a height that causes pain.
Seated Triceps Stretch
This exercise works the shoulder muscles and the back of the upper arm. Perform the following steps to complete this stretch:
Step 1 – Sit in an upright position with your back against a chair for support.
Step 2 – Place your left hand on your left shoulder. Clutch your left elbow with your right hand.
Step 3 – While keeping your shoulders down, slowly begin to lift your left elbow toward the ceiling until you start to feel tightness.
Step 4 – Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat this stretch on the opposite side.
Perform 2 to 4 repetitions with each arm. You should feel a gentle stretch in the shoulder blade region and the back of the upper arm.
Additional exercises that promote shoulder blade pain relief include:
- Shoulder rolls
- Chest T stretch
- Chest goalpost stretch
- Shoulder blade squeeze
- Lower neck and upper back stretch
If you are worried about chronic shoulder pain or you are not sure how to perform these exercises, you should meet with a physical therapist who can demonstrate the proper way to do each stretching exercise.
Strategies for Cancer-Related Shoulder Girdle Pain
In some cases, shoulder girdle pain may be an indication of cancer including certain types of lung cancer such as mesothelioma, Pancoast tumors, or advanced lung cancer (metastatic cancer). The main reason why lung cancer may lead to pain in the shoulder region is that as cancer spreads, it can begin to damage muscles, nerves, and bones in different parts of the body, including the shoulders. Severe shoulder girdle pain may be a sign that the cancer is spreading and damaging various structures in the shoulder.
For instance, Pancoast tumors develop in the lungs, but typically spread to the blood vessels, vertebrae (spinal bones), ribs, or nerves in the lung region. As the tumors spread, they may cause shoulder girdle pain along with muscle weakness, pain in the arms, and numbness or tingling in the skin. If the tumors become large, the pain may radiate to the armpits, shoulder muscles, or the upper back.
Therefore, shoulder girdle pain that is severe or is accompanied by muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, or pain in neighboring regions should be evaluated by a healthcare professional who can identify the underlying cause.
If given a diagnosis of lung cancer, the treatment options depend on the specific form of cancer and whether or not it is metastasizing. The most common management approaches include:
- Radiation or chemotherapy treatment
- Surgery to remove the cancerous growths
- Medications that block or disrupt tumor growth
- Drugs that target cancer symptoms (e.g., body pain, nerve damage, breathing issues)
- Immunotherapy to boost the immune system’s ability to combat the cancer cells
These approaches are generally more effective if lung cancer is diagnosed and treated before it begins to spread to other parts of the body. The prognosis worsens if the cancer travels to the lymph nodes or other organs prior to treatment. This means that addressing symptoms early on by speaking with a healthcare professional can improve overall outcomes. Persistent or severe shoulder girdle pain should not be ignored.
Most people with chronic discomfort such as persistent shoulder girdle pain may benefit from physical therapy, unless a serious issue needs to be treated first or emergency surgery is necessary. This pain management approach focuses on improving flexibility of the shoulder joint and increasing range of motion. The individualized regimen also involves a demonstration of techniques that can be used at home to support long-term improvement.
In addition, attending regular sessions lets a therapist assess whether the treatment plan is effectively reducing shoulder blade pain or if it needs to be adjusted. Therefore, individuals with pain in the shoulder region that does not resolve on its own or respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers should speak with a physical therapist for additional assistance.
If a serious shoulder injury or extensive tissue damage necessitates surgery, a physician typically provides a referral for physical therapy. Receiving therapy before a surgical procedure can help condition the body for recovery following the procedure. Furthermore, adhering to the physical therapy regimen typically shortens the recovery period after surgery. Any form of shoulder pain that is troublesome should be evaluated by a professional such as a physical therapist.
Physical Therapy for Cancer-Related Shoulder Pain
For physical therapists who are working with individuals who have cancer-related pain, one of the key aspects of rehabilitation is education. This entails discussing postural precautions that reduce the risk of further injury to different structures in the body, including the shoulders girdle. Patient education is also provided regarding ways to heighten quality of life. Important areas a therapist may focus on include:
- Cardiovascular endurance
- Strength training and physical conditioning
- Careful movements while carrying out daily tasks
- Bed mobility in cases of radiation, chemotherapy, or surgical treatment
These factors are incorporated into the therapeutic plan because people with shoulder blade pain that is linked to cancer typically benefit from physical therapy sessions that accompany their cancer treatment.
However, cancer-related pain presents physical therapists with unique challenges that involve making appropriate treatment decisions that will benefit patients both physically and mentally. According to surveys regarding physical therapy for cancer pain, there are a number of critical issues physical therapists must consider when developing therapeutic regimens. These include:
- The development, potential metastasis, and possible recurrence of the cancer, which is a major concern that must be considered throughout therapy.
- The need for frequent diagnostic imaging to assess pain in a new region.
- Determining whether weight-bearing exercises need to be modified to prevent discomfort or injury.
- Closely monitoring physiological and emotional states as this can influence therapeutic outcomes.
- Monitoring the patient for signs of reduced function and mobility as the cancer or treatment may lead to chemotherapy-related nerve damage, excess fatigue, muscle deconditioning, radiation fibrosis (tissue scarring), or treatment-related heart damage.
Each person’s case is different and physical therapists have to develop treatment plans that best accommodate physiological status, emotional endurance, and realistic management goals.
If you experience frustrating shoulder girdle pain, pinpointing the exact cause may not always be possible. In some cases, an issue that developed in another part of the body may be the true source of the shoulder pain. This complication is known as referred pain and it is characterized as pain that originates in one area and then radiates to a distant region. Certain types of neck or upper back issues (e.g., injury), cancer (e.g., lung cancer), disc herniation, and arthritis can lead to pain in the shoulder blades, especially if specific nerves become damaged or pinched.
In general, if your shoulder girdle pain is due to a serious injury or the pain is severe, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider such as a physical therapist who can properly diagnose and treat the condition. If your shoulder pain is mild, at-home remedies that include over-the-counter pain relievers, hot-cold therapy, and briefly resting the shoulder are typically helpful. However, if the discomfort is persistent enough to disrupt your daily activities, working with a physical therapist can be beneficial.
The highly skilled physical therapists at FYZICAL can recommend lifestyle changes, postural adjustments, therapeutic exercises, and stretching techniques that can help minimize your pain. By adhering to your physical therapy regimen and incorporating the therapeutic strategies into your daily routine, your risk of experiencing recurring shoulder girdle pain will also decrease.
FYZICAL offers a wide variety of physical therapy services by qualified providers across the U.S. To find a FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center near you, visit our website at FYZICAL.com. Our highly skilled therapy providers are 100% focused on your optimal health so you can Love Your Life®!
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