As the weather is getting nice enough for outdoor activities such as golf and tennis or putting out your new patio furniture and starting a garden, there are some things you should be mindful of. You probably do not think much about your shoulders, arms, elbows and hands until something goes wrong, and then you realize how these muscles and joints are an integral part of nearly everything you do.
If an unexpected injury does occur, you should know when it’s time to seek medical attention.
Some of the most common shoulder problems include:
- Dislocated joint
- Rotator cuff injuries, such as tears, tendonitis and bursitis (inflammation of the tendons or bursa)
Some of the most common elbow, wrist and hand problems include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tendonitis and bursitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome (nerve compression due to repetitive motion)
- Sprains and strains
In many cases, you can treat minor upper body injuries with medications for pain/inflammation and R.I.C.E.
When pain becomes severe or persistent, it may be necessary to see your doctor. You should seek medical attention when the pain and swelling:
- Occur when you are not involved in an activity
- Cannot be relieved by rest or reduced by over-the-counter medications
- Interfere with your ability to perform many activities, such as grasping objects
- Awaken you from sleep
Common Upper Extremity Problems:
Disease and injuries that affect the upper half of your body—especially the shoulder—are common. In fact, the shoulder can move in more ways than any other joint in the body, which also makes it the most potentially unstable and therefore susceptible to injury.
Your shoulder is a complex mechanical structure comprised of three bones—the collarbone (clavicle), shoulder blade (scapula), and the upper arm bone (humerus)—which are held together by muscles, tendons, cartilage and ligaments. Small fluid-filled sacs called bursa cushion the space between bones and the muscles, tendons, and skin. The muscles and tendons surrounding the ball and socket joint where your upper arm meets the shoulder (the shoulder capsule) are called the rotator cuff.
Injuries from sports, manual labor, or an accident can tear the rotator cuff or cause the tendons or bursa to become inflamed (causing tendonitis or bursitis, respectively). A rotator cuff injury produces pain and stiffness and limits your shoulder’s range of motion. More often, however, these shoulder problems are simply due to age-related degeneration. Rotator cuff injury problems increase with age.
Rotator cuff injuries are not the only common shoulder problem. You can also dislocate your shoulder; in other words, knock the ball (the head of the upper arm) out of the shoulder socket. In addition to pain and swelling, you can usually see that your arm is out of position. If you dislocate your shoulder, your doctor will put the ball back into the socket and stabilize the joint with a sling or immobilizer until it heals. When adhesions (such as scar tissue) form in the shoulder capsule, it can cause adhesive capsulitis, more commonly known as a frozen shoulder. As the name implies, this limits your ability to move your shoulder.
Fortunately, most of these common shoulder problems heal with conservative treatment including rest, anti-inflammatory medications and limiting or prevent movement of the area for a few weeks. You may need physical therapy to help you regain your range of motion and rebuild muscle strength once your injury heals.
Elbow, wrist and hand problems
You can also damage the tendons and bursa in these smaller joints through injury or repetitive motion. You’ve probably heard the term “tennis elbow,” which describes a repetitive use injury common in tennis players and others who repeatedly extend or pronate (turn facing downward) the forearm.
Individuals who have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis often experience pain, inflammation and stiffness in the joints of the hands and wrists. Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease) is the most common joint disease and usually affects older adults. The associated joint pain and stiffness generally follows activity and then symptoms lessen with rest. You can generally treat mild cases of osteoarthritis with over-the-counter medications, gentle stretching, and exercises. If your osteoarthritis is severe, you may need surgery. Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious inflammatory disease and requires on-going medical care.
If at-home care does not relieve your symptoms, or if your problem is severe, seek medical help promptly to avoid worsening your injury and to prevent long-term complications.