Shoulder Injuries: Why Does it take so long to Recover?

We rely on our arms for just about everything we do.  It’s no small surprise that when something goes wrong with your shoulders, it can really make it difficult to get anything else done.  Maybe you have had a shoulder injury in the past or know someone who had surgery performed on their shoulder and noticed that it took a very long time for the arm to work like it used to.  Unfortunately, this slow recovery process is fairly common and there are many reasons why a recovery might take as long as it does.  Let’s take some time to discuss why this might be the case.

What makes the shoulder so complex?

You have probably heard this before, but your shoulder is an example of a ball-and-socket type joint.  As the name implies, the joint’s shape is a rounded structure (the top part of your humerus, or arm bone) rolling inside a cup shaped socket (in this case, it is a structure on the outside of your scapula, or shoulder blade).  The upside to this kind of joint is that it makes the joint highly mobile, more than any other joint in the body, in fact.  Your shoulder can lift in front, lift to the side, cross your body, and rotate in circles.  Compare this to a joint like the knee, which mostly just bends and straightens, and you can appreciate how much your shoulder is capable of.  Unfortunately with all this mobility, your shoulder joint also needs a LOT of complex musculature to be able to pull off these tasks.  If one or more of these muscles stop working, then a whole host of problems can arise.

Major muscles in the shoulder.

There are many muscles that our shoulders rely on to complete our everyday activities.  There are a whopping eighteen total muscles that attach to each shoulder blade, and that doesn’t even include the muscles that exist in the upper arm and elbow.  Here are some of the most important ones you may have heard of:

Rotator cuff: This is actually a group of four muscles that surround your shoulder blade.  They are crucially important in keeping your shoulder blade stable so that the rest of your arm can safely roll in its socket.  Many of them also play a big part in reaching behind your back or when reaching for a seatbelt.

Deltoid: This muscle is shaped like an upside-down triangle and sits right on the side of your shoulder and plays a part in raising your arm in all directions.  When other parts of your shoulder get injured, this muscle tends to work overtime to make up the difference, causing it to become inflamed as well.

Upper trapezius (traps): This is part of a large muscle group that covers your back and shoulder blades.  It works to shrug your shoulders upward, which is needed for certain complex movements.  Similar to the deltoid, this muscle can become overactive if your body has other injuries it is trying to work around.

What kinds of injuries can occur?

Between impingements, muscle tears, and instability, there are dozens of different kinds of injuries that can potentially occur in the shoulder.  To simplify this, we can consider the principle that if something in your body won’t move or hurts to move, you will compensate with a different set of muscles to get the job done.  Each one of the individual injuries could be its own email, but with any joint, the body will follow this general concept.  This is especially relevant in the shoulder because the musculature is so much more complex.  The more moving parts are in effect, the more things can potentially go wrong.

How can physical therapy help?

Oftentimes people will come to a physical therapist at the request of their physician when the shoulder is injured.  Imbalanced muscle strength is commonly found at the source of shoulder pain and a therapist can help identify exercises that will help restore a healthy balance, which can in turn reduce pain over time.  Alternatively, a physical therapist can help to identify what the cause of the pain is if a person opts to see a therapist before consulting their physician.  Either way, physical therapy is an important component of long term recovery from a multitude of different injuries.

If you have a script from the doctor or if you have a shoulder injury you would like examined, our staff is one call away at (609) 738-3143 and would be happy to answer your questions and get you started on the road to recovery.