Chronic pain can limit your day-to-day activities and add other limitations to your lifestyle. Shoulder pain, like many other musculoskeletal pain issues, can debilitate a patient and make them desperate for relief. We see many cases where chronic shoulder pain has led patients down the path of prescription medications and injections. Little did they know that shoulder pain, along with many chronic pain types, can be treated and maintained with conservative therapies. In this article, we will discuss 5 of those conservative therapies.
Compression is a therapy technique that is usually used directly after an acute injury to help prevent the formation of chronic inflammation and pain. There are always two phases to an injury: the acute phase and the chronic phase. The acute phase refers to the following 1-3 days where the pain is the most heightened. If untreated this phase can turn into the chronic phase, where inflammation and pain start to set in. The chronic phase can last for a lifetime if the injury or area is not properly treated in the acute phase. Compression is mainly a technique for the acute phase but also helps during the chronic phase.
The most common forms of compression used in healthcare are sleeves and braces. You may have used compression for something like a sprained ankle or wrist. Compression is super important for the acute shoulder pain phase as the goal is to limit inflammation and dangerous range of motion as much as possible.
When you are in the acute phase of a shoulder injury it is extremely important to go about your pain relief in the correct order. A huge mistake that people make is using heat during the acute phase. You want to avoid using heat during the acute phase because remember: the goal of the acute phase is to reduce inflammation and decrease the intensity of the pain. The best way to do this is through cold compress.
2. Cold Compress
Cold Compress is a necessary therapy technique in the acute stage. It’s extremely important for your shoulders as your shoulders are used daily and have a rather large range of motion. The goal of an effective acute stage treatment protocol should be to stabilize the area, decrease inflammation, and use a limited range of motion until the pain has subsided.
If you have ever had an injury you should have been taught to “ice it down”. This is exactly what a cold compress refers to. The problem many patients face is where to go next. You can’t just ice down a problem every time you feel pain. The truth is once your issue has shifted into the chronic stage: cold compress will not help treat the problem effectively.
Shoulder injuries can be specifically debilitating to your everyday life. If you let a shoulder injury become a chronic injury it can seriously halt your routine. The most crucial step to a full recovery is to do the proper strengthening exercises routinely and correctly.
3. Strengthening Exercises
If you ever truly want to get back to 100% you have to implement strengthening exercises into your treatment routine. This is definitely something we suggest doing under the supervision and guidance of a licensed professional. Once you know your comfortability levels and pain tolerance then it is ok to do at home.
The thing about strengthening exercises and rehabilitation, in general, is that you NEED to be doing exercises at home if you want a full recovery. Your shoulder is something you need to use in everyday life. If you like chronic inflammation set in you may never reach that full range of motion you once had.
Check out this video on youtube where we show some exercises targeted at shoulder pain relief. Remember if you are experiencing intense pain from an injury: we suggest contacting your musculoskeletal physician. We will be posting on our youtube routinely different easy at home exercises to help with different musculoskeletal issues.
4. Rest and Activity Modification
Although strengthening exercises and movement are vital to your recovery, so is knowing your limits. We often see a patient’s progress undone because of pushing it too far. We know how frustrating an injury can be, but it’s important to strategically push your limits incrementally- not all at once.
It is for this reason that we suggest rehabbing an injury with a licensed professional. They will work with you to set realistic goals and timelines. They will supervise and guide you from beginning to end. A good practice will teach you that rehabilitation is not about what you do after an injury but it’s about how you live after an injury.
Just because you may have recovered from an injury does not mean you should stop doing daily strengthening exercises and stretches. Maintaining a healthy frame is really the key to avoiding acute and chronic injuries. As we say all the time: to live a pain-free life means to adopt a pain-free lifestyle. This also means knowing what activities aggravate your injured areas.
As we age our limitations change. This is especially true as you injure different body parts. When you injure your shoulder, it’s not the best idea to overwork it through strenuous activities. Know your limits. You may have to work up to that heavy bench press in the gym instead of how you used to just crank it out. The maintenance of your body parts, such as your shoulder, is just as important as the rehabilitation of them.
5. Heat and Infrared Light Therapy
Even if you have reached full recovery on an injury, the chance of pain flaring up here and there after workouts or activities is high. It’s important to know how to treat these flare-ups when they happen. Ignoring a flare-up can put you right back into the chronic pain stage. There are many therapy techniques to treat flare-ups. Two of our favorites are heat therapy and infrared light therapy.
Heat therapy is something you are probably familiar with, in the form of a hot pack or herbal hot pack. It is as easy as putting it in the microwave and applying it to the pain area. When you are not in the acute phase we suggest using heat therapy to sooth pain after workouts and activities.
Infrared Light therapy is an innovative new technology used after workouts and activities as well. The most common form of this therapy is an Infrared Sauna. The infrared sauna is a better approach for those with pain areas that aren’t easily addressed through a hot pack. It works like a regular sauna except there is no steam All the heat is generated through infrared light. This helps to activate healing in your body on a systemic and micro level.
Both of these therapies help to do two very important things: increase circulation and reduce inflammation. Remember: when you are past the acute stage of an injury and you experience flare ups the goal is to reduce inflammation and promote healing, increase circulation, as quickly as possible to avoid the chronic pain stage. This is an incredibly necessary therapy to maintain painful body parts.
For more information on conservative musculoskeletal therapy techniques, exercises, and stretches: subscribe to our weekly blog and YouTube channel. Here at Underwood Healthcare, we are committed to both treatment and education.