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From a chiropractic standpoint there are two steps to effective treatment for any painful problem. First you must find what is causing the pain (the source) and next find why it has occurred (the cause).
In the case of shoulder pain, there are many different potential sources. Irritation or injury of the muscles, joints or nerves can all result in pain in the shoulder (for more information on specific sources of shoulder pain click here). Careful examination is therefore essential to establish what structure is truly the source of the pain.
The second, and perhaps most important step to successful chiropractic for shoulder pain, is to find why the pain has occurred. Unless your pain came on as a result of trauma (fall, car accident etc) it will be the result of progressive breakdown of the shoulder over time. Careful examination can reveal the underlying cause(s) of overload and eventual breakdown. Asymmetries, muscle weakness, joint restriction, changes in posture or faulty mechanics are all common factors. Once both the source of shoulder pain and the underlying cause have been identified treatment can take place.
Chiropractic treatment for shoulder pain is tailored to the individual and their specific case. It may include a number of techniques such as manipulation, soft tissue work, dry needling or corrective exercise.
How does chiropractic for shoulder pain work?
Restricted or irritated joints can cause referred pain into the shoulder. Chiropractic manipulation is a very effective approach to restore proper movement to the joints and to relieve pain. It can also be used to restore movement and function to joints away from the site of pain to help unload painful areas. For example, it is very common for the joints through the thoracic region of the spine (the mid-back) to become locked and stiff. If movement through this area is limited it changes shoulder position and function resulting in more stress on the tissues of the shoulder. Restoring movement to the thoracic spine allows proper positioning and function of the shoulder reducing stress on the shoulder and thereby reducing pain.
Treating the underlying cause and not just the area that hurts is a big factor in the success of chiropractic treatment for shoulder pain.
Soft tissue work
The infraspinatus (pictured right) is one of four small ‘rotator cuff’ muscles of the shoulder. Very often in shoulder complaints this muscle is found to be tight and overactive. Not only does this disrupt shoulder mechanics – limiting overhead movement or causing pinching in the shoulder – it can also cause numbness, tingling or heaviness into the arm. It is therefore a key muscle to assess in cases of shoulder pain.
Triggers points or ‘knots’ within muscles of the neck and mid-back can also cause referred shoulder pain. A variety of soft tissue approaches such as active release, trigger point therapy or ischaemic compression can be used to treat these muscles to relieve shoulder pain.
Dry needling is a therapeutic technique using an acupuncture needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate the underlying tissue. Dry needling is very effective at treating deep trigger points causing shoulder pain.
Corrective exercise can be used in both the early and late stages of a shoulder compliant. For acute shoulder problems specific exercises can be used to relieve pain and promote healing. Later, exercise can be progressed to improve strength, endurance, mobility and balance to aid full recovery and prevent recurrence. For example, the side bridge (pictured right) is a very effective foundational exercise to improve shoulder and trunk stabilisation.
Is chiropractic for shoulder pain safe?
Yes. Chiropractic is widely recognised as one of the safest, drug-free, non-invasive therapies available for the treatment of nerve, muscle and joint complaints. Most patients experience immediate relief following chiropractic for shoulder pain however, some may experience mild soreness, stiffness or aching, just as they might after exercise. Current research shows that this discomfort typically fades within 24 hours.
Are you suffering with shoulder pain?
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- Image 3: Liebenson. C., Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies
‘Chiropractic for Shoulder Pain’ was written by Steffen Toates. Steffen is a chiropractor at Dynamic Health Chiropractic in Jersey, Channel Islands. For more infomation about Steffen click here.