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Wednesday, June 22

Can't sleep because of your shoulder?

Many shoulder problems cause difficult with sleep at night.  The #1 complaint that I hear in my practice is "I can't get comfortable at night."  In fact, my patients are often dragged in to see me by their spouse because their significant other tosses and turns all night.  Nighttime pain is often the most significant part of a problem with the shoulder.  Other complaints include difficulty with reaching above the head or behind the back, difficulty getting a bra on, or difficulty reaching into a back pocket.  Many times the pain radiates into the arm as well.
What causes nighttime pain?  One word: inflammation.  Inflammation is the root cause of many problems that affect the shoulder while resting.  Inflammation can  result from one of several different underlying problems.  Problems that cause inflammation include rotator cuff tendonitis or tears, "bone spurs", and arthritis in the shoulder.  Frozen shoulder also is the result of inflammation.  Of these, rotator cuff problems are the most common.
What can we do about it?  This time, it's a two word answer: cortisone shot.  Although cortisone injections are not the solution for every patient, they are often very helpful with nighttime pain.  They may completely eliminate the problem, permanently.  In other cases, they may help for weeks or months.  Besides cortisone shots, other treatments for shoulder pain are available.  These include anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy.  Rarely, surgery may be necessary to correct a significant problem, such as a severely torn rotator cuff tear or large bone spurs which cause friction and rubbing.  For a very small group of patients with arthritis, shoulder replacement may be the best option.
A physical exam, x-rays, and sometimes an MRI are all necessary to establish a diagnosis.  Making an appointment when things have been going on for more than a week or two is often helpful to "nip it in the bud" and prevent the problem from getting worse.  Remember, it is not normal for a shoulder to be painful.

Afterword:  see my post about ultrasound-guided injections for more information!