Courtesy of Kim Gladfelter
Applying ice or heat, hugging a pillow while sleeping and undergoing physical therapy are the best ways to cure shoulder pain, according to physical therapist Kim Gladfelter.

Shoulder pain is an extremely common problem these days. The shoulder is a complicated joint with movement in all directions. Use of modern technology is a great contributing factor because of the poor posture and increased compensation it creates.

There are several different reasons why your shoulder may be hurting, including:

• An inflamed tendon (the cord that attaches a muscle to a bone) of the rotator cuff.

• An inflammation of the subacromial bursa (a sac of fluid under the highest part of the shoulder).

• Impingement. When you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the end of the collar bone and head of the arm bone narrows.

The most common cause of many shoulder injuries is overuse.

And when it comes to shoulder aches and pains, there are two ways that most happen.

No. 1, you have an accident. With an accident you know exactly the moment it happens. This is often due to a fall or a collision, causing acute pain.

No. 2 is related to something you’re doing that causes annoying, persistent pain that just won’t go away. This is the most common problem we see in our clinic: chronic pain.

Easing the pain

Chronic shoulder pain isn’t always due to one particular movement or activity. This is pain that has been going on for an extended period of time. Fortunately, there are simple ways to ease shoulder pain. Following is a quick story about a patient we saw a few weeks ago.

Martin, 46, a Mountain View resident, came to us after struggling with chronic shoulder pain for three months. He plays tennis at a high level, so enduring shoulder pain every day was beginning to affect his performance and get in the way of his weekly tennis matches. After a few weeks of hands-on physical therapy with soft-tissue massage and personalized exercises, Martin returned to tennis and soon reported playing his A game again.

But even if you’re not involved in a sport like Martin, it doesn’t mean chronic shoulder pain won’t affect you.

The same type of shoulder pain can be caused by various activities – gardening, painting, a job where you have to lift heavy objects, even from sitting hunched over at a desk all day.

So what can you do if you’re experiencing shoulder pain, or if it happens suddenly?

First, understand that “overuse” doesn’t specifically mean doing an activity too much. Overuse actually means doing an activity the wrong way too much.

In Martin’s case, he was performing a shoulder exercise in the gym to enhance his tennis skills in the wrong position – which we discovered was causing his shoulder pain in the first place.

But gym and exercises aside, it could be that you have weak muscles in your arms, back and shoulders or poor posture when sitting and standing, or you could have even spent most of your life sleeping in an awkward, twisted position. All of these things can be the culprit of nagging shoulder pain.

Following are ways you can ease irritating shoulder pain that disturbs your sleep and gets in the way of almost everything you do.

• Use ice and heat. Whenever you’re feeling achy or have pain, such as at the end of a busy day, ice is by far the best way to ease the pain. Apply an ice pack for 10 minutes or so, often every hour.

When should you use heat? When you wake up in the morning the muscles are likely to be a little stiff and cold from not moving all night, so applying heat will help you move your shoulder with more ease. Again, 10 minutes should do it

• Hug a pillow while you sleep. Tucking a pillow deep under your arm helps keep your shoulder joint properly spaced.

• Get hands-on physical therapy. If you’ve been putting up with the shoulder pain for several weeks or even months, getting some hands-on treatment is going to help ease the pain fast. In fact, there isn’t a faster way to ease shoulder pain than by seeing a physical therapist.


Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.