Ugh, my shoulder hurts! Is it my rotator cuff?

By: Erin E. Ducat DC, CSCS, CCSP

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in your body.  It’s a shallow ball and socket joint surrounded by a network tough muscles that are constantly at tension to keep it intact.  Because those muscles are constantly contracting and the area is used in almost every activity from working on the computer to putting a plate away in the cabinet, your shoulder is uniquely vulnerable to injury.

There’s three general types of shoulder conditions that can develop without a history of trauma (such as a fall etc):

  1. Impingement
  2. Rotator Cuff Tear
  3. Adhesive Capsulitis (aka frozen shoulder)

shoulderimpingeImpingement is most common in people between 20-50 years old.  Usually you have pain when raising your arm to the side or overhead.  Putting on tight shirts, fastening your bra or lifting overhead is painful.  Impingement occurs when your shoulder is not stabilized properly by the core and rotator cuff muscles.  As a result, tendons and/or your bursa (a little jelly filled pad in your shoulder), get inflamed and stuck under a bony prominence in the tip of your shoulder (this is known as tendonitis or bursitis).  Most of the time, impingement will not get better on it’s own and can progress to a rotator cuff tear if not addressed in a timely manner.  Chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy and home exercises usually do a great job at fixing impingement.  Occasionally, referral for cortisone injections is needed if the pain is not manageable.

rotatorcuff-2Rotator cuff tears generally occur after the age of 40 and your risk increases as you age.  You will have pain at night and often will complain that your symptoms are constant.  Sometimes you may remember pulling or injuring your shoulder.  Most of the time, there won’t be an injury event.  Like with impingement, you’ll have pain or trouble raising your arm to the side or overhead.  The critical difference is that you will also have weakness in your rotator cuff muscles when the doctor tests them.  That is because either part of the muscle is torn or possible the entire muscle is ripped.  This finding will prompt your chiropractor to order a MRI to see what type of tear is present and if you’ll respond well to physical therapy or need surgery first in order to heal.  We see excellent outcomes with both scenarios in our office and work with several orthopedists in the area.

fc1fe9bdbe328f71ba24f41b147dd192Adhesive Capsulitis or Frozen Shoulder is also common in people over the age of 40.  Unlike a rotator cuff tear, you don’t have weakness in your rotator cuff.  Instead you have severe pain and stiffness in almost every direction of movement due to inflammation and adhesions along the capsule of the shoulder joint.  You might be at higher risk for this condition if you have a family member with it or have diabetes.   We don’t completely know why people develop adhesive capsulitis.  It might be due to weak core or shoulder musculature combined with generalized inflammation in the body.  Treatment generally consists of chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, acupuncture and possibly cortisone injections for severe cases.  It is unusual to need any surgical repair.

As a Board-Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician, I treat extremity conditions from a conservative and non-surgical perspective on a daily basis and often provide second opinions for patients who have not experienced relief or satisfaction with traditional medical treatment options.  There’s no need to live with shoulder discomfort.  It our goal to help you stay active and pain-free.



Dr. Erin E. Ducat is a Chiropractic Physician, who is Board-Certified in Orthopedics, Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.She also is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and maintains a private practice in Bloomingdale, IL.Dr. Ducat has been the team chiropractor for professional and youth sports and treats a variety of orthopedic, sports and pelvic floor conditions for the communities of Bloomingdale, Roselle, Itasca, Medinah and surrounding suburbs.For more information about Dr. Ducat, go to

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