Shoulder Pain

I love to swim and had to stop several years ago because of right shoulder pain that turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. I had to have surgery (which was the most painful thing ever) and it scared me off swimming.

This spring a co-worker and I signed up for the gym on campus and convinced each other it was time to move. I decided since my right shoulder hasn’t given me any problems since surgery, it could handle some swimming – so I took the plunge and LOVED it. We went 2-3 times per week and were having a great time. A couple of weeks ago my left shoulder stated hurting. I eased off the swimming, but the pain didn’t go away – time for a doctor’s visit. (I suspected it was another torn rotator cuff and was trying to fool myself into thinking it would heal on its own.)

The doctor told me to stop swimming completely and she gave me a requisition for an Xray and a prescription for PT. The office called today and told me it was “degenerative joint disease”. A quick Google search tells me that’s doctor-speak for osteoarthritis. This is a condition where the cartilage that prevents bones from rubbing together wears out. It seems I’ve won the lottery – most people don’t get osteoarthritis until after age 50 (and I’m not there yet).

The shoulder is really an amazing joint in that the humeral head doesn’t actually have something to fit into like your femoral head does. The whole thing is held together with muscles, tendons, and ligaments – that’s how you have such phenomenal range of motion. From where my pain is located, I’m assuming I have acromial-clavicular osteoarthritis – so my collar bone and the tip of my shoulder blade are rubbing against each other and causing the pain.

What’s the treatment? Physical therapy (scheduled already) and probably some sort of occupational therapy to learn how to move better without the pain. I won’t even get any good pain killers! The best treatment is NSAIDs or plain old Ibuprofen. I guess it was just a matter of time; my mother has arthritis all over. It just kind of sucks in that I’ve found some exercise that I love and I’m prevented from doing it.

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