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Care and treatment of shoulders and elbows

Whether it’s opening your car door or tossing a football to your child, your shoulders and elbows are integral to performing the most simple and important actions throughout the day. That’s why everyone should be proactive in keeping them healthy and strong. And if an injury does occur, Chris Reams, MD, at Liberty Hospital Orthopaedics staffed by MU Health Care physicians offers the expertise you need to treat your problem and feel better again.

A fellowship-trained surgeon and specialist in treating the shoulder and elbow, Dr. Reams provides these answers to his patients’ commonly asked questions:

Why are shoulder and elbow injuries so common?

We subject both these joints to a great deal of movement, making them susceptible to physical issues. The shoulder has the highest range of motion of any joint in the body, which makes it naturally less stable. The elbow allows for flexibility in the lower part of the arm and is prone to repetitive strain or injury. Shoulder and elbow pain can result from contact during sports activities; overuse or recurring motion such as lifting and hauling; or trauma from a fall, accident or other high impact.

How can I take care of my shoulders and elbows?

Increasing strength and flexibility is a great way to keep your shoulders and elbows healthy and prevent injuries. Other recommendations for taking care of these areas:

  • Do not carry a bulky item such as a backpack or purse over just one shoulder.
  • Take regular breaks from activities you do over and over again.
  • Do not work with your arms above shoulder level for long periods of time.
  • Lift and carry heavy objects close to the body, not away from the body or over the head.
  • Be mindful of maintaining good posture.
  • Keep things that you use often, such as your phone, close by to avoid reaching and straining your joints.
  • Avoid poor sleeping positions that put too much pressure on these areas.

What are the most common shoulder and elbow conditions and injuries?

One very common cause of elbow and shoulder pain is tendinitis, an inflammation and injury to the tendons that is caused by overuse or repetitive motion. Other common conditions and injuries include:

  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Dislocations, separations and fractures
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow
  • Tears in the labrum, tendons or ligaments
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Joint instability
  • Sprains and strains

How can I treat shoulder and elbow pain?

A simple technique of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE) three or four times a day can be effective in minimizing pain, muscle spasms, and swelling in the shoulder and elbow. This involves applying an ice pack for about 20 minutes each time.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, often help with pain and swelling. The use of a splint, brace or sling can assist in limiting excessive movement so your joint can rest.

When should I see my doctor for evaluation?

If your symptoms continue — and if they prevent you from taking part in everyday activities — you may need to see an orthopaedic physician who specializes in treating the shoulder and elbow.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy or other treatments, such as injections, that can support healing if conservative treatment isn’t working. Surgery may be an option if all other treatments have been exhausted but you are still experiencing painful symptoms.

When you need orthopaedic care for the shoulder and elbow, Dr. Reams will take a personalized view of your pain, mobility, lifestyle and preferences to create the treatment plan that is right for you.

Learn more about shoulder and elbow care