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Pain Management

Common Shoulder and Arm Injuries

What is a torn rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and their related muscles that help keep the shoulder and upper arm bone securely placed in to the socket of the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder joint and helps you to raise and rotate your arms.

There are three stages of rotator cuff tears:

What is shoulder impingement?
Impingement syndrome is a common disorder of the shoulder that refers to an improper alignment of the bones and tissues in the upper arm. Inflammatory conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, and arthritis are all closely related to impingement syndrome, as are tears to the rotator cuff tendons.

If the rotator cuff becomes inflamed from overuse or there is a bone deformity or spur on the end of the shoulder blade, then the space between the upper arm bone and tip of the shoulder blade is narrowed, causing the rotator cuff and its fluid-filled bursa to be squeezed or pinched. This impingement causes irritation and pain to the rotator cuff when the shoulder is raised.

What is frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition in which the tissues around the shoulder joint stiffen, scar tissue forms, and shoulder movements become difficult and painful. It can develop when you stop using the joint normally because of pain, other injury, or a chronic health condition, such as diabetes. Any shoulder problem can lead to frozen shoulder if you do not work to maintain its full range of motion.

What is a separated shoulder?
A shoulder separation (acromioclavicular joint injury) occurs when the outer end of the collarbone separates from the end of the shoulder blade because of torn ligaments. This injury occurs most often from a blow to the shoulder or a fall on a shoulder or outstretched hand or arm.

What is a dislocated shoulder?
A shoulder dislocation (shoulder instability) occurs when the upper end of the arm bone pops out of the shoulder joint. This injury may be caused by a direct blow to the shoulder, a fall on an outstretched hand or arm, or an exaggerated overhead throwing motion.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the term used to describe a specific group of symptoms (tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain) in the fingers or hand and occasionally in the lower arm and elbow. These symptoms occur when there is pressure on a nerve (median nerve) within the wrist (carpal tunnel). Carpal tunnel syndrome develops over time because of repetitive hand motions that damage muscle and bone in the wrist area.

What is tennis elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is inflammation of the tendon that connects the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and hand to the upper arm at the elbow. The tendon on the bony outside (lateral) part of the elbow (the epicondyle) is most often irritated by overuse during physical activity.

This information was taken from the University Pointe Pain Management Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007.

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Last Reviewed: Jan 16, 2007

Hammam  Akbik, MD, FIPP Hammam Akbik, MD, FIPP
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati