Doctors Exploring Ways To Treat Nagging Shoulder Pain

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Shoulder pain comes in many forms. It can be sharp, or dull and nagging.

But, there are ways to get relief.

How basketball coach and convenience store owner Janiece Newell hurt her shoulder isn’t so unusual.

“I actually fell forward. And to brace myself from the fall, I put my arms out in front of me,” Newell said.

She tore part of the connective tissue that holds the shoulder in place. As a result, every day ordinary activities were painful.

“Washing my hair, put on my T-shirt to get dressed, just everything,” Newell said.

She tore the upper part of the labrum. That’s the cartilage cup that holds the ball-shaped upper part of the arm in the ball-in-socket joint of the shoulder.

The most common cause of shoulder pain is a rotator cuff injury, but this falls into a leading cause, too.

“Other top ones are shoulder arthritis, shoulder instability, of which a dislocation is the most severe and frozen shoulder,” Dr. Patrick McMahon, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Clair Hospital, said.

Typically, anti-inflammatory medication, avoiding activities that make the pain worse, and physical therapy are the first lines of treatment, and two out of three patients get better with this.

“Physical therapists are adept at leading the people through the treatments in a way that doesn’t cause more pain or injury,” Dr. McMahon said.

Sometimes steroid shots can provide relief.

“A steroid is just an anti-inflammatory right at the location of the injury,” Dr. McMahon said.

Sometimes, though, surgery is necessary. These days, it’s often done with tubes and scopes through small incisions.

Again, two out of three people do well with this.

The reason for some to not do well is complex. Big tears and long-standing tears often don’t heal well, and the current surgical techniques could be enhanced, for example with stem cells. But, that’s still a ways off.

“Despite our best effort, these are really hard to heal tissues, and sometimes, even the small tears don’t heal,” Dr. McMahon said.

Shoulder injuries happen across the lifespan.

“We see them in 18-year-old swimmers, and we see them in 85-year-old grandmothers,” Dr. McMahon said.

Newell turned out to be a good surgical candidate.

“He told me that typically the recovery period would be like 80 percent recovery. And I actually have full recovery,” Newell said.

And she was quite motivated to do her physical therapy at home, three times a day.

“I actually coach as well as help my girls play basketball. I can actually show them the fundamentals of how to do a layup, actually lift my arm to show them to do the layup,” she said. “I couldn’t lift my arm up past here. I can actually lift it all the way up now.”

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