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Shoulder Anatomy


The two main bones of the shoulder are the humerus (the bone from the shoulder joint to the elbow) and the scapula (shoulder blade). The joint cavity is cushioned by articular cartilage covering the head of the humerus and the face of the glenoid. The scapula extends up and around the shoulder joint at the rear to form a roof called the acromion, and around the shoulder joint to the front to form the coracoid process.

The shoulder joint is a flexible ball-and-socket joint and is stabilized by a ring of fibrous cartilage surrounding the glenoid called the labrum and by the rotator cuff muscles. Ligaments connect the bones of the shoulder, and tendons join the bones to surrounding muscles. All these components of the shoulder, along with the muscles of the upper body, work together to manage the stress the shoulder receives as a person extends, flexes, lifts and throws.

Shoulder Problems

While shoulder problems may arise as the result of a specific traumatic incident - a fall, work-related accident, or sports injury - they often seem to appear out of nowhere. In cases where there's no obvious cause for pain, the culprit is often the cumulative stress, strain, and abuse from years of poor posture and body mechanics. In young people and active adults, problems tend to be related to sports, which can be punishing to the shoulder. Symptoms come in many varieties. Pain can be:

  • Dull, sharp, constant, intermittent, or like "pins and needles"
  • Highly variable, from mild discomfort to extreme pain
  • Site specific or generalized
  • Responsive only to certain motions or be limiting to the shoulder's range of motion

The shoulder muscles are common sites of shoulder dysfunction. Certainly the mildest dysfunction is the tendency of these muscles to become stiff or tight in response to heavy shoulder activity. The result of muscle tightness is usually minor, such as short-term achiness, and may be no great cause for concern. On the other hand, muscle tightness does diminish the shoulder's range of motion, which, unless the muscles are warmed up and stretched, puts the shoulder at risk of injury when called upon to push beyond that range.

More worrisome is the accumulation of excess lactic acid and other chemicals in the shoulder muscles whenever they are subject to excessive or repetitive stress over time. The cellular and chemical responses to excessive stress almost inevitably lead to muscle inflammation and the development of hard knots of muscle and pain, which only increase if the stress is unrelieved.

Shoulder Treatments

Some shoulder conditions, such as mild strains, sprains, and tendonitis, call for simple home treatments such as:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Braces and wraps

Others demand more advanced physical therapy techniques: carefully and scientifically tailored exercises to strengthen the shoulders and improve range of motion; adjustments of posture; mobilization; and perhaps ultrasound, magnets, and electrical stimulation.

Still other problems require surgery or other major intervention, although these, too, are usually complemented with an exercise program designed by a physician as part of rehabilitation. In every instance, one should look to his or her physician to make a diagnosis and determined the proper treatment.

Shoulder Pain Relief Products

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