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Wear and Tear of Your Shoulder:

No Gain, Just Pain

By: Uma Srikumaran, M.D.

shoulder x-ray Shoulder x-ray

The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body and provides an incredible range of motion that we often take for granted on a day-to-day basis. Although we don’t walk on our shoulders, this joint is susceptible to wear and tear just like hips and knees.

In the shoulder, wear and tear most frequently refers to thinning or loss of the cartilage lining of the joint (arthritis) or tears of the rotator cuff tendon. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that help lift and rotate your shoulder.

Arthritis and rotator cuff tears are increasingly common as we age, with the majority of people developing arthritis after the age of 60 and rotator cuff tears after the age of 40. Prior injuries such as dislocation can accelerate the loss of cartilage in the joint, leading to arthritis at a younger age. Likewise, placing a higher demand on your shoulder with repetitive overhead activities can lead to more advanced rotator cuff disease earlier in life. These conditions are referred to as ‘wear and tear’ because of the slow and progressive nature of the degeneration, much like wearing a hole through your sock.

Arthritis presents gradually increasing pain and loss of motion, ultimately making it difficult to participate in sports or perform basic activities of living, such as getting dressed. Rotator cuff tears also present with pain, but can also be associated with weakness, making it difficult to reach overhead or lift things away from the body.

There are many treatment options for both arthritis and rotator cuff tears ranging from preventative approaches to surgical reconstruction. If you are having ongoing pain or are losing function of your shoulder, see your orthopedic surgeon so a diagnosis can be made. Together with your surgeon, management options can be discussed and the appropriate treatment can be selected.

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