The Shoulder and Its Many Sources of Pain

With all the extraordinary array of muscles, bones, ligaments and nerves that cluster in the shoulder, it's sometimes called the "spaghetti junction" of our bodies. And with this dizzying array of layered elements, it's not surprising that the shoulder is prone to many pains that may have causes as diverse as poor posture, stress, psychological problems, computer overuse, playing tennis and lifting and carrying heavy objects. Not to mention that this 10-pound thing called a head must be supported by the relatively slender neck, which may produce strains in the neck area that will in all likelihood spread to the shoulders.

Most shoulder problems are related to soft-tissue injury, not joint damage, and can be relatively easily treated. But it's important to get an accurate diagnosis from your orthopedist so treatment can be effective and recovery speedy. While we can't be risk-free of shoulder pain, we can keep the odds in our favor by being wise about the weight of such things as sports bags, school backpacks, briefcases and supersize handbags.

Ironically, however, shoulder pain sometimes has nothing to do with the shoulder. It may stem from inflammation or irritation of an organ, such as the liver, gall bladder spleen, stomach, lungs or the connective tissue sac that suspends the heart in the chest cavity. The nerves that connect these organs to the spinal cord produce reflex stimulation to the spinal nerves that control the muscles attached to the vertebrae.

Of course, occasionally there's a trapped nerve in the neck that causes referred pain to the shoulder. Whatever the cause, your family doctor can provide you with an initial diagnosis - usually with the help of an X-ray or MRI scan. The MRI is especially helpful because it gives a far more detailed and specific picture of not only bones but also all soft tissues - muscles, tendons, nerves and ligaments.


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