Massage for shoulder pain?!
What is Shoulder Pain?
Shoulder pain is any type of pain around the shoulder. This can be the front, top, back or side of the shoulder and when aggravated often extends down the arm, up into the neck or down between the shoulder blades.
What causes Shoulder Pain?
There are number of different potential causes of pain in the shoulder. The type of pain that you get, together with when you get shoulder pain helps us to determine the cause:
- Frozen shoulder or arthritis – typically consistent pain and stiffness that last months or years. Often categorised by poor shoulder flexibility
- Tendonitis, bursitis or shoulder impingement – pain generally worse when you are using the arm or shoulder. It can be painful at night time to sleep on the shoulder.
- Shoulder instability/hypermobility – weakness, instability, clicking or locking in the shoulder. Normally muscle fatigue occurs towards the end of the day.
- Rotator cuff weakness/problems – can present as referral pain down the outer part of the arm into the elbow, painless clicking, muscle fatigue, headaches etc.
- Trauma – this is things like shoulder dislocation, fractures or torn tendons – intense/sudden pain often with an inability to move the arm at all OR very limited range of motion
- AC joint problems – pain on top of the shoulder, straight arm pushing (like pushing on a door or holding a plank position).
- Neck stiffness – persistent aching in the shoulder, can be made worse by neck movements.
- Nerve Pain – intense pain, change of sensation, tingling, numbness or weakness in the arm.
Will Shoulder Pain get better on it’s own?
In most cases yes. It’s a self limiting condition which means a lot of people will get better in 4-6 weeks (see the NHS website here). It depends on the cause of your symptoms and other factors.
If you haven’t noticed an improvement in your symptoms but a doctor has cleared you, that’s exactly the time to book a Sports Massage appt to start making some progress.
What factors are going to affect my recovery?
We now know that look at the mechanics of an injury is only half the story. Sometimes pain can be a lot worse or less depending on many other factors. This is to do with the nervous system – making decisions on how importantly or loudly to talk to you about what’s going on. This is pain science (and we are pain science geeks here at HeadStart!)
Other factors that can affect your recovery are:
- Quality of sleep – once you’re in pain this is THE biggest predictor of your improvement
- Depression – often people with depression experience more pain. This does not mean we have to cure you of depression to improve your pain! But it does mean we need to consider this if you are getting slower recovery. And we’ve worked with plenty of people with this before.
- Stress & Anxiety – This is general stress & anxiety, good or bad, it could be the daily commute, worrying about money, looking for a new job or even organising your wedding. All of these factors can affect your experience of the pain and your recovery.
- Survival value – How important is it for you to be pain free? This can go both ways, it can either make things worse because you’re desperate to get better and that’s making you more stress and anxious. OR it could be that because you ‘have’ to make it through that 4hr car journey to see your family it drops the pain to allow you to do that.
- Catastrophizing – This is an important one that we work on in clinic. It’s very important to help challenge the thoughts that you’re never going to be able to…run again, sit without pain, that your disc has exploded inside your body. Why? Because this makes you stressed, and stress increases pain. I think it’s pretty reasonable if you have a numb foot you’d be fairly worried. So this is where we have to find out the cause of your symptoms and work towards a treatment plan that works for you.
- Fear Avoidance – Lying in bed avoiding moving, or worrying that you’re going to damage yourself more if you return to the gym is the last thing we want you to be doing. Think of it like a phobia, to help you improve you sciatica we need to get you challenging yourself a bit – to discover that things ARE ok and you can do things. Of course we modify any movements that are causing pain – but it’s very important you don’t avoid doing things because you’re afraid.
- Beliefs – beliefs like, I’m getting old, or my dad had a bad backs so it’s genetic, or my disc has exploded so I have to be extremely careful about what I do, ALL make your pain worse or slow your recovery. And that’s what we need to address.
Massage Therapy for Shoulder Pain
Will Sports Massage help my Shoulder Pain?
Because we’re able to help with the mechanical cause of your pain, like muscle tension or spasm. We can find ways to stretch muscles without causing nerve irritation AND we help mobilise your shoulders and upper back in ways to relieve tension.
Also we’ll address all the factors above.
The discussion with your therapist when you have something like shoulder pain is just as important as the hands on treatment.
By combining hands on work, calming the nervous system, it makes things more tolerable allowing you to move more normally.
This creates a window of opportunity for you after the appt for you to get moving more and a chance for your brain & body to learn that the risk is lower, hopefully causing a longer lasting effect of reduced muscle tension and improved movement. Exercising, using the muscles, during this time is REALLY important!
Getting deep tissue massage on your upper back, neck, shoulders and arms is very effective at reducing pain and improving flexibility. Reducing pain in order to increase your movement is the most important thing when you have shoulder pain and Sports Massage is a great way to help.
What if I have arthritis in my shoulder?
If you have a condition like arthritis, then of course Sports Massage doesn’t directly affect the bone! But what Sports Massage can do is to keep the surrounding muscles as healthy and flexible as possible. We can maintain the health of the shoulder joints as well as improving mobility in the upper back. Managing shoulder pain and maintaining mobility is just as as important for some people who have a long history of shoulder pain.
We’ll also recommend safe exercises and stretches for you to perform at home. Depending on your specific symptoms you may find some simple seated stretches like this really helpful.
What can I do to help my Shoulder Pain?
- If you haven’t already then make yourself an appt with a GP. It’s important to get checked by a medical professional if you have had pain for a while. Once given the all clear or you have a diagnosis then we can begin to help.
- Book a Sports Massage with one of our team! We’ll be able to help assess, identify what the causes of the shoulder are and create a treatment to get you back in action ASAP!
- Continue to keep moving. There is a big difference between pain and discomfort here. It is VERY important that you move as much as possible and continue to live life as normally as possible as long as your pain levels are below 4/10. Which to me means it’s going to be uncomfortable but not painful
- Get advice on activities that make symptoms worse. Anything that you notice causes an increase in pain, get some advice. We need to determine if that’s purely because you’ve done too much and the body is fatigued OR if you are causing more irritation. If you’re keen for a clear template then use our traffic light system for training when you’re in pain.
- Where possible avoid movements that cause intense pain – it’s unlikely to be causing damage, but you are irritating the the muscles and potentially slowing your progress.
- Experiment with different stretches and mobility techniques – often using a mobility ball or foam roller can be really helpful here. Here’s some of our tutorials on how to use a mobility ball or foam roller. And these stretches are great for improving shoulder range of motion.
- Relax – this can be as simple as lying down in a comfortable position a few times a day, taking deep breaths or going for a short walk. We really like to recommend body based relaxation exercises like PMR or the free HeadSpace app
Shoulder pain can be very range from nerve pain, aching or sharp pain on movement. It can be extremely painful and distressing, and although most cases improve in 4-6 weeks it also can be very stubborn. It is a common condition that we see in clinic and can get very significant improvements and pain relief using Sports Massage to help shoulder pain.
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