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Shoulder Pain

Q: Lately I've been experiencing almost daily soreness and shooting pain in my right shoulder. Some days I can't even sling my purse over my shoulder without getting a twinge. I can't figure out what causes it. I'm a law clerk, so it's not like I'm doing any heavy lifting. What could be wrong?


Dr. Donnica:
Shoulder pain is an extremely common complaint, and there are many common causes. Unfortunately, it is impossible to suggest what might be the cause of your symptoms without an examination. Please make an appointment to see your physician.

In the meantime, you can try self-medicating with rest and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (400 mg every 4-6 hrs unless you've been instructed by your physician not to take these medications). One possible cause, which would be an occupational hazard for a law clerk, is that your pocketbook and/or briefcase might just be too heavy! This can lead to or exacerbate bursitis, tendonitis, or arthritis or even a pulled muscle in the shoulder. Other common causes of this type of pain are sleeping on the arm in an unusual position (or holding someone on that shoulder for a prolonged period of time). Rotator cuff tears or pinched nerves are also possible diagnoses as are shoulder dislocation, shoulder instability or shoulder separation.

After doing an exam, your doctor may order x-rays. Her treatment recommendations will be based upon the specific diagnosis. In addition to recommending pain and anti-inflammatory medication, your doctor may also recommend a muscle relaxant and resting the shoulder for a few days, followed by gentle stretching exercises and/or physical therapy. If the pain is severe, cortisone injections are another possibility.

Not all shoulder pain requires medical attention, but the following criteria are indications to call for an appointment: inability to carry objects or use the arm; an injury that causes joint deformity; shoulder pain at rest; shoulder pain that persists beyond a few days; inability to raise the arm; swelling or significant bruising around the joint or arm; signs of an infection, including fever, redness, warmth; or any association with chest pain or pain radiating down the arm.


Created: 3/4/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.


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