Shoulder pain is one of the most common problems I see in clinic.  Clients regularly come in and tell me their shoulder hurts.  My first job is to find out what they mean by “shoulder”!  That might sound a bit crazy, but this is a complicated structure.  It has so many links to other structures nearby (both direct links and more distant, neurological ones) that the true cause must be carefully sought out.

If the source is the joint itself (or its local soft tissues), the pain will crop up when using the arm (reaching overhead, putting on a jacket, brushing your hair).  The pain is usually at the top of the arm, and it may spread all the way down the arm.  This kind of problem is pretty common, and responds well to osteopathic treatment and an exercise schedule.

Other problems can masquerade as shoulder pain

Sometimes, however, the problem isn’t really in the shoulder itself.  In the last week I’ve seen two people who came in complaining of shoulder pain.  The rib joints underneath the shoulder blade turned out to be the real issue – once I had treated them, symptoms settled down.  Sometimes it’s to do with the joints in the neck.  Sometimes, there’s a tension problem in the large muscles in this area. The client needs manual treatment, perhaps exercises to encourage deeper and more effective breathing, perhaps advice on posture and ergonomic set-up in their everyday life.

There are almost always things that need addressing further afield as well, which may be allowing the shoulder problem to happen.  Quite often, there are restricted joints around the mid-back area.  Perhaps problems in the pelvis, hips or legs – these can have a “knock-on” effect higher in the body.

The reason for the odd questions

An osteopath will always be alert to the possibility of a visceral cause of shoulder pain.  If left-sided, cardiac problems will be the first thing to consider– happily, this is a rare occurrence in clinic.  If right-sided, there may be a problem in the digestive system that refers pain here.  Again, this is reasonably uncommon; but I have seen cases where the shoulder pain was the only symptom of something happening internally.  Very confusing for the poor client!

If you have pain in the shoulder area, find someone to assess it for you properly (and don’t be surprised if your therapist asks a lot of strange questions about your digestive health, blood pressure and suchlike!  With such a complicated structure as this, it’s worth being thorough!)


Do you have pain that needs checking out? Get in touch here.