Tag Archive for: shoulder problems

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome – Treat the cause not symptoms

Have you ever had pain in your shoulders when you try to raise your arms overhead, pull off a sweatshirt, grab a gallon of milk from the fridge?  Or place grocery bags on the counter?  You were likely dealing with shoulder impingement syndrome – also known as rotator cuff impingement.

They call it impingement syndrome because your rotator cuff tendons literally get “impinged” between the round head of your shoulder joint and a hook-shaped bone in the front of your shoulder joint (called the acromion) that is part of your shoulder blade.

This can occur for a number of reasons…

You could have a deformity that causes this, an injury could lead to this, arthritis could contribute to this, or poor posture can cause it.

Any of these scenarios can cause crowding in the space where your rotator cuff tendon passes in front of your shoulder. If this happens often enough – it’s going to get irritated every time you raise your arm past 90 degrees.

When this first begins to happen, it will typically cause acute inflammation. You may be diagnosed with rotator cuff tendonitis. But eventually, the more constant pain and irritation of tendonitis subsides and you only feel pain when you go to raise your arm or reach in certain directions.

This is more commonly known as shoulder impingement.

With the exception of a deformity, almost all cases of shoulder impingement can (and should) be resolved naturally.

The tempting and easy fix is to get a cortisone shot to calm the inflammation.

But what you need to understand is that impingement syndrome – in most cases – is actually the symptom of a more overarching problem. And injecting the tendon with cortisone will often cause more harm than good.

The cortisone will temporarily mask your problem. It will eventually cause damage to your tendon if you keep getting injections. Remember, impingement is caused by crowding of the space where your tendon passes through. You can temporarily take the inflammation away and it will feel better. But, unless you address the reason for the crowded space, your problem will keep coming back.

So how do you naturally get rid of shoulder impingement for the long term?

First, you must address the reason for the crowded space in your shoulder joint where your tendon passes through. Most often – it’s due to poor postural habits and immobility around your shoulder joint – specifically your neck and upper back.

For example, if your upper back is stiff, curved, and lacks adequate mobility – it’s going to impact how your shoulder blades move and are positioned.

With a stiff and curved upper back, your shoulder blades will respond by moving out and up. This scenario makes that hook-like bone (the acromion) sit more forward and down than it should. When this happens, there isn’t enough room for your tendon when you lift your arm above shoulder height. The bony surfaces above and below your tendon create friction and this eventually turns into pain and inflammation. This can happen slowly over time. Or, more quickly if you’ve got something like arthritis where that space might have naturally already narrowed.

Another common scenario is after a shoulder injury. Your neck and upper back may have learned to compensate for a time while you were healing from your injury. The result is some unwanted postural deformities that can lead to impingement of your rotator cuff tendon.

When it comes to shoulder pain, always make sure to examine your neck and upper back FIRST.

If there are poor postural habits there, your shoulder will undoubtedly be impacted.

If you really want to get rid of your shoulder impingement – and back to lifting, reaching, and carrying things without any worry – it’s essential that you identify and address the root cause, not just the symptoms (inflammation of the tendon).

Next time you go to the doctor complaining of shoulder pain – and you hear the words “impingement syndrome” or “rotator cuff tendonitis” – don’t assume you need rest, ice, a cortisone shot, or surgery to resolve it.

None of these solutions will give you the long-term solution you’re looking for.

The very last thing you want to do is choose passive treatment interventions or procedures. These either mask the pain or prolong the problem because they only address symptoms.

You want to do everything possible to preserve the integrity of your tendon. The best way to do that is by optimizing the mobility and strength around your shoulder joint first. Do this before resorting to more aggressive measures like cortisone or surgery.

Are you currently suffering from shoulder pain (or anything else) that is keeping you from doing things you love?

Are you contemplating surgery or a cortisone shot because you have been told it’s your best and only option?

Let me know and let us help!

We’re happy to provide a second opinion for you.

We will examine your shoulder and see how it responds to certain movement tests. Then we’ll be able to tell you – and show you – if your problem can be resolved naturally with movement instead of a procedure like a cortisone shot or surgery.

Our patients find that if they end up needing a procedure (which is rare) – they do so with peace of mind. This is because they’ve exhausted a natural, movement-based solution with us FIRST.

If you want to talk to us and see if what we do is right for you – CLICK HERE to request a Discovery Call with my client success team.

They’ll let you know if we can help and get you on our schedule as quickly as possible!

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of one of her guide to neck and shoulder pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at [email protected].

Shoulder Pain

Persistent Shoulder Pain could mean Misdiagnosis

Persistent Shoulder Pain could mean Misdiagnosis

We’ve been hearing a lot of complaints lately about shoulder pain. Your shoulder joint is one of the most complex and mobile joints in your body. It’s made up and supported by an intricate structure of bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles and connective tissue. They all work in unison to keep it functional.

You’ve got the head of your shoulder joint (looks like a round ball) inserting into a socket within your shoulder blade (your “wing”). This makes up your shoulder joint and is supported by a joint capsule, ligaments, and your rotator cuff muscles.

Surrounding and supporting your shoulder blade and shoulder joint is your cervical and thoracic spine. (neck and upper back). This has both large and small muscles helping to support your ability to push, pull, reach, and raise your arms overhead.

Intertwined within all of that is a delicate web of nerves and blood vessels… No wonder shoulder pain can be a challenge to treat – never mind diagnose.

If you see your doctor about shoulder pain, they will typically want to take a closer look via X-rays and/or MRI’s. X-rays will show you all the bony parts of your joint – to see if anything is broken and check for arthritis. MRI’s will see if anything is torn or worn away, such as rotator cuff or labral tears.

Relying on imaging to diagnose your shoulder pain can be tough. Or any joint pain for that matter.  It’s entirely possible to have arthritis, a torn rotator cuff, or torn labrum – and still have a perfectly functioning shoulder. The problem is we only get things looked at when we are in pain. So, there is no way to know for sure if you’ve had these “abnormalities” already, and if they are the true reason for your shoulder pain.

For example, it’s estimated that between 20-50% of people over aged 50 have “asymptomatic rotator tears”. Meaning – they walk around with a torn rotator cuff and have zero pain in their shoulder. Just because an X-ray or MRI says so – doesn’t mean it is so. And it’s a big reason why so many folks suffer unnecessarily with persistent shoulder pain.

If I meet someone with shoulder pain that hasn’t gone away – the first thing I question is whether or not we have the correct diagnosis. With shoulders, misdiagnosis is all too common given the complex nature of the joint and surrounding structures.

Here are some clues to help you figure out if your persistent shoulder pain has been misdiagnosed:


Where is your pain?

When pain is coming from the shoulder, the pain will typically be felt directly in three places. In front of your shoulder, on top of your shoulder, or in a more involved shoulder problem (like a rotator cuff injury) down the side of your upper arm. But it will never go below your elbow. If the pain goes past your elbow and into your forearm or hand – radiates above your shoulder into your neck (the upper trap area) – or deep inside your shoulder blade or middle back – odds are pretty good you’re dealing with a neck problem – and not just a shoulder problem.

If you don’t address your neck, your shoulder pain will continue to persist. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen get unnecessary rotator cuff surgery because of this misdiagnosis.

Have you lost mobility in your shoulder?

Lack of mobility is a common symptom associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” These are, indeed, shoulder problems. So if your pain is persisting, you probably have the correct diagnosis, just the wrong treatment approach.

However, one overlooked area when it comes to shoulder stiffness is your middle back (thoracic spine). If your thoracic spine has mobility restrictions – or even weakness that leads to stiffness (our joints stiffen up to compensate for weakness/instability) – it will impact your shoulder joint. Stiffness in your thoracic spine can inhibit your shoulder mobility. Over time, this lack of mobility will irritate structures within your shoulder joint, causing pain.

If you’ve got persistent shoulder pain and feel like you’ve tried everything, get your middle back checked out. This could be your misdiagnosis.

Do your symptoms involve numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening – it’s likely coming from your neck or upper portion of your middle back (cervicothoracic junction). It could be due to a bulging disc or a restricted/faulty movement pattern that is irritating nerve roots (or discs) in your spine. An isolated shoulder problem typically does not involve nerve root compression or irritation. Sometimes certain trigger points in your rotator cuff muscles can refer pain. But this usually feels quite different from what I’m referring to.

Do you consistently feel pain, numbness, tingling or burning in your shoulder blade, middle back, or down your arm? Especially if it seems to move around during the day? Then it’s likely not a shoulder problem. In the medical world we call this presentation “cervical radiculopathy”. If you continue to experience persistent shoulder pain and you’ve got any of the symptoms I just mentioned, this is probably your misdiagnosis.

Confused? I don’t blame you.

The moral of this story is that if you’ve got persistent shoulder pain and given treatment your best shot, then you’ve likely been misdiagnosed. Shoulder pain loves to disguise itself as a spine problem (neck and/or middle back) even when you don’t feel pain in your spine.

Whatever you do, don’t resort to any surgery or major procedures until you’ve thoroughly explored these areas with a mechanical pain expert who knows where to look.

If you are local to Portsmouth, NH

Consider reaching out to one of my specialists by requesting a free discovery visit HERE. They will ask you all about what’s been going on – and see if we would be the best fit to help you.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, email her at [email protected].

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

When you have joint pain that won’t go away, especially after trying lots of physical therapy, your doctor might recommend you get a cortisone shot.

Cortisone shots are often prescribed for things like back pain, bursitis, bulging discs, cartilage tears, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and many other conditions that are perceived to be inflammatory in nature. While every single one of these conditions can cause things to be inflamed, it doesn’t mean that inflammation is your underlying problem. If something else is causing any of these structures to get irritated and inflamed, then your cortisone injection won’t work. At the very best it will provide you temporary relief, but the problem will ultimately come back in about 6-12 months time.

Cortisone shots also come with many potential problems and side effects. So you really want to be sure that it’s necessary before you get one.

The list includes problems such as: cartilage damage, death of nearby bone, joint infection, nerve damage, temporary facial flushing, temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint, temporary increase in blood sugar, tendon weakening or rupture, thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis), thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site, and whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site. And none of these side effects account for human error with the procedure. If your doctor is “off” with his/her injection – you could end up with unnecessary tissue trauma and pain because your shot wasn’t injected correctly.

So when it comes to cortisone shots, you really want to make sure that 1) the root source of your problem is inflammation and 2) you actually need one.

The reason why so many cortisone injections “fail” is because quite often – they weren’t needed in the first place. Even though the actual pain you are experiencing might be due to inflammation, the underlying cause leading to the inflammation could be something else entirely. Cortisone shots are used to address inflammation. But 80% of the time the musculoskeletal pain you’re experiencing is due to a mechanical or movement problem. So while the symptoms you’re experiencing could be due to inflammation, the root cause of your issue could be due to something else. In this case, the cortisone shot will not help – or worse – provide you with temporary relief that leads you to think it did.

Let me explain with a bit of scientific research.

Studies show that 70-80% of people over the age of 50 have a bulging disc on their MRI. 60% have a meniscus tear in their knee. These findings are considered normal as you age. The research also says that not all of these people experience pain. So you can have two people with the exact same MRI findings and one person will be perfectly fine while the other can barely walk. This is how we know that “the finding” (a bulging disc or meniscus tear for example) isn’t necessarily the problem.

The source of the problem is what is causing that bulge or tear to get annoyed.

About 80% of the time it’s going to be something like a faulty movement pattern or “mechanical issue,” such as poor mobility or stability, leading to some compensatory movement strategies in your body. When you don’t move well, structures like normally occurring disc bulges and meniscus tears can get irritated.

For example, let’s say you have a bulging disc in your back. If you sit for most of the day, travel a lot for work, or have a job that involves a lot of repetitive lifting, these types of activities are known to really aggravate a bulging disc. If all you do is inject cortisone to calm down the irritation, you won’t be fixing the real problem… which in this case is your daily movement habits. After about 6 months of returning to all these activities again, the pain WILL come back.

The good news is that there are ways to solve this type of problem (and others) naturally, and without a cortisone injection. But the important thing for you to realize here is that if you did get a cortisone shot recently and it appears to have “failed,” the last thing you want to do is get another one or resort to an even more invasive procedure. It’s possible you didn’t need it in the first place, so you want to make sure that is uncovered first.

So, if you’ve recently had a cortisone shot and it didn’t work, it could very well be that you never actually needed it… or that the wrong problem (inflammation) was being addressed instead of the underlying cause.

If you are considering something like a cortisone shot, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion to make certain you really need it and that it’s the best course of action for your problem. And if you’ve already had one and it didn’t work, don’t worry, odds are good that there is still a solution out there for you… and it doesn’t have to involve more procedures.

It could be as simple as learning how to move better!

Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today to speak with my client success team to see if we can help you avoid quick fixes like cortisone shots and get long lasting results. 

Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH.  To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain – click here.

Carrie working on a client's shoulder

Shoulder Pain not Going Away? This could be why…

Whether it’s shoulder pain, neck pain, back pain, or knee pain that you’re dealing with — if you have a nagging pain or injury that just won’t go away no matter what you try, it’s a clue that you’re missing something.

We see this ALL the time in our office with shoulders.

Folks just like you come to us wondering why their shoulder still hurts after trying ice, heat, rest, physical therapy, massage, and every possible shoulder exercise you could imagine.

The pain either goes away temporarily, or sometimes it gets WORSE!

When it comes to shoulder pain, it’s critical that you know for certain if the pain is actually coming from your shoulder, or somewhere else. If not, you risk trying to fix the wrong problem… and that explains EXACTLY why your shoulder pain isn’t going away.

So… if your shoulder pain isn’t caused by your shoulder — where is it coming from?

The most common culprit is actually your NECK. Below are a few key signs to help you figure out if that’s the case…

(PS – we’re doing an online workshop on this topic in just a few weeks.)

Where is your pain?

When your pain is coming from your shoulder, the pain will always be localized to your shoulder alone. True shoulder pain is felt directly in front of your shoulder, directly on top, or in a more involved shoulder problem (like a rotator cuff injury) you might feel some achiness down the side of your arm… but it will never go below your elbow.

If the pain goes past your elbow and into your forearm or hand, or radiates above your shoulder into your neck (the upper trap area), or if you feel it deep inside of your shoulder blade in your mid-back, odds are pretty good that you’re dealing with a neck problem and not just a shoulder problem. This could be the reason why your shoulder pain isn’t going away.

Do your symptoms involve numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening, it’s likely coming from your neck – and could be due to a bulging disc or a restricted/faulty movement pattern that is irritating nerve roots in your neck. An isolated shoulder problem typically does NOT involve nerve root compression or irritation. This is much more common in a problem related to your neck, and if that’s what’s happening, you will feel symptoms into your shoulder, shoulder blade, or even down into your arm. What’s particularly misleading is that it’s entirely possible to feel all these nerve symptoms and not actually feel anything localized to your neck. This is a big reason why shoulder pain caused by a neck issue gets missed by so many health practitioners.

Have you lost mobility or range of motion?

Lack of mobility and stiffness are common symptoms associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” If your neck moves well and is pain free, but your shoulder is stiff and immobile, odds are good that the problem is actually in your shoulder and you just haven’t found the right treatment approach yet. BUT… if you have a stiff and painful neck, and you lack mobility in your shoulder, then it’s absolutely imperative that you investigate your neck. If your care provider only focuses on stretching and improving your shoulder mobility, and never bothers to look at your neck, it’s possible you could be missing a key component to full recovery… and that’s why your shoulder pain keeps coming back.