Are you experiencing recurring or constant shoulder pain? Have you lost flexibility or movement in one of your shoulders, possibly as the result of a recent strain or injury? If you are finding that your shoulder is in pain or doesn’t move properly, then it may be time to consider treatment.

This may be in the form of physical therapy or shoulder surgery, which you can find when you contact GPOA (Greater Pittsburgh Orthopaedic Associates) in and around Pittsburgh, PA.

Understanding Shoulder Problems

The shoulder, the most flexible joint in the body, is made up of two main joints - the acromioclavicular joint and the glenohumeral joint. The latter is a ball and socket joint where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade), offering a wide range of motion. However, the shoulder's flexibility can also make it prone to instability and injury. Common shoulder problems include:

  • Instability
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Inflamed tendons (bursitis or tendinitis) or tendon tear

Also, fractures involving the humerus, scapula, or collarbone (clavicle) can cause significant shoulder pain. These are often the result of a fall or high-energy injury.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Shoulder Injuries

Shoulders are crucial joints. Injuries to the shoulder joint can cause a range of challenges, whether they limit your ability for recreation and sports or common necessary daily activities. Fast treatment is critical in dealing with these injuries. Shoulders are complicated joints and can worsen with time––in some cases leading to increasing pain and discomfort.

Modern medical techniques have given us a wide range of options for treating shoulder joint injuries, from non-surgical treatments, physical therapy, shoulder surgery, or even shoulder replacement, depending on the type of injury.

Do I need shoulder surgery?

It isn’t always easy to know when you need treatment––so what are the signs that you should see a doctor?

Shoulder Problems That Often Need Treatment

Typically, patients will need to see a shoulder specialist for a few different reasons.

Traumatic Shoulder Injuries

A sudden fall, a car accident, or any number of situations can lead to a traumatic injury to the shoulder. Even if the areas around the arm and shoulder heal, there may be residual discomfort or even serious pain as a result of the shoulder’s unique structure. If you’ve had a serious injury to your upper arm or shoulder, you should seek the advice of a specialist.


Arthritis is often experienced as we advance in age, due to daily wear and tear on the shoulder. However, it can be seen in younger patients as well, and it is a very common condition that requires treatment.

Tendon Disorders

Our tendons are critical when it comes to moving our limbs. A damaged tendon can result in high levels of pain or limited motion in the arm. In the case of the shoulder, both bicipital tendinitis and rotator cuff tendonitis may require surgery to correct the issue.

Athletic Injuries

Sports injuries often need specialized treatment. Athletes require their joints to work at an optimal performance level, which can dictate how their treatment is conducted. For athletes, a torn or frayed rotator cuff can be a serious problem that necessitates rotator cuff surgery. With advancements in medical technology, new minimally invasive procedures are being introduced to repair these injuries, offering alternatives to traditional surgical methods and potentially faster recovery times.

What Are the Signs I Should Seek Treatment for My Shoulder?

Before we can decide whether to recommend surgery, we first need to take a look at the problem in greater detail. It’s not always possible to tell what the symptoms mean right away, but there are a few instances where you should talk to a specialist––so what are the signs you should consider treatment?

Weakness In Your Shoulder

If you have noticed a significant loss of strength in your shoulder, it may be a sign you should have a specialist get a closer look. The underlying reason may be due to injury, or it may be due to the degeneration of certain tissues. In either case, if you see a sharp decline in your ability to lift objects, this may indicate a problem.

You Have Trouble Sleeping on Your Shoulder

This issue may be a sign of bursitis, osteoarthritis, or rotator cuff injury, among other things. If you normally sleep on your side, this can be a serious problem. Injured rotator cuffs, in particular, can cause sleepless nights.

Your Shoulder Makes a Snapping or Popping Sound

There are many reasons your shoulder might make noise when you try to move it. A snapping or popping sound can be a sign of inflammation, arthritis, tendinitis, or even a torn rotator cuff––all of which are reasons to seek medical advice from a specialist.

You Are Experiencing Difficulty Lifting the Arm

If you have trouble lifting your arm above your head, this may be another sign that your rotator cuff is injured. Shoulder impingements often present themselves with an inability to raise the arm high over the head (a condition known as swimmer’s shoulder). They are not tears––but they can turn into tears if not treated. In many cases, the rotator cuff needs surgery, guided treatment, and physical therapy after it has been repaired.

Pain in the Shoulder

When you experience pain in the top area of your shoulder, this may be a sign that there is a problem with your AC joint. The culprit here could be AC arthritis or a shoulder separation. If the pain is in the front of the shoulder, then the reason could be caused by a SLAP or biceps tear. Deep aches can signal a rotator cuff tear, bursitis, or tendinitis.

Shoulder Dislocation

A dislocated shoulder is a condition that may actually not wind up requiring surgery. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Dislocated shoulders can be extremely painful and immobilizing. There are rare cases where the bones become pushed out of position, and surgery may be required to correct this or to repair a damaged ligament. Whether surgery is needed, patients should certainly seek help.

Visible Abnormalities in the Shoulder

At times, the shoulder can be pushed out of position in a way that is visible. One shoulder may be higher than the other, or actually look dislocated or pushed forward. If you are experiencing some form of pain or loss of movement that is combined with a visible imbalance, then it is important to seek medical advice so it does not get worse.

When Do I Need to Consider Shoulder Surgery?

In some of these cases, treatment will not require a surgical treatment. Sometimes pain in the shoulder can be treated with more simple remedies like stretching, rest, ice or heat, or some form of medication that will help to reduce the inflammation that is causing the pain. However, it is necessary to get an informed opinion, because sometimes the symptoms may not tell you all you need to know. Shoulder pain might indicate a problem that simply needs rest––or it could require surgery. In the case of surgery, there are some particular symptoms to look out for:

You Have Radiating Pain in the Shoulder

Radiating pain is not quite the same sensation as other types of pain. Some pains can feel like a dull ache, like the muscle has been overworked. Others feel like a sharp, stabbing pain. In both cases, these are usually localized.

In the case of radiating pain, this can start in the shoulder and cause painful sensations all the way down the entire length of the arms. If you are experiencing this type of pain, it is possible that it is a sign of overuse––but it also could be a rotator cuff tear, which may require surgery.

Pain Even When Not Active

Rotator cuff injuries usually only cause extreme pain when the shoulder is being used, but there are other injuries that may need shoulder surgery. Bursitis often leads to a condition called “frozen shoulder,” where the shoulder won’t move properly. However, the main symptom of bursitis is constant pain that a patient will feel even when the shoulder is at rest.

Bone spurs or calcium deposits may be worsening the condition, causing pain both when the shoulder is moved and when it is motionless. In order to remove these pieces, surgery is sometimes necessary. During bursitis surgery, a small incision is made and an arthroscope is used to get the pieces of bone or calcium out. This surgery is minimally invasive and (with physical therapy) can sometimes return to a normal function within six to eight weeks.

You Have Had a Shoulder Fracture or Other Injury

If you know that you had a shoulder injury, it may be the case that the healing process did not go as planned. Shoulder stiffness and pain can often be the result of a nagging injury that hasn’t healed properly and may require a surgical solution in order to get it to a healthy place.

Advanced Joint Disease

In some cases, the shoulder may require a process known as shoulder replacement, where the entire joint is surgically replaced. Usually, this comes only after doctors have tried other methods to alleviate pain or loss of motion. It is not often recommended as a first step.

However, there are times when the pain in the shoulder is not responding to any other treatments or surgeries and may have deteriorated to such a degree that the only solution is replacement. This is not a minor decision, and it is absolutely necessary to discuss this with a medical professional.

What Happens After Surgery?

Surgery is a difficult process, and when it comes to the shoulder, you will almost always require some form of physical therapy.

Physical Therapy Will Return Functionality

The physical therapy treatment will help you regain the normal use of your shoulder, which may have been compromised due to the initial injury, the surgery, or both. In some cases, a full recovery may not be possible, however, we are finding more and more success as techniques become more refined.

In many cases, a full recovery can be accomplished even after a serious surgery, with the return of full strength and range of motion. However, the process is not instantaneous, and will often take several months to complete fully.

Physical Therapy Will Help Reduce Pain

Physical therapy can also be a significant help in reducing the level of pain you are experiencing. Physical therapy helps with rebuilding and retraining the muscles and joints, which will lead to increased use of your arm and shoulder and a reduction in painful inflammation. Of course, it is necessary to have guidance in this process, as over-training an injured shoulder can re-injure or slow its recovery.

Physical Therapy Will Return Strength

Although this is especially important for athletes, regaining strength after surgery is necessary for everyone. For one thing, you naturally want to have the same or better strength than you had before your operation. For another, a stronger muscle system will help to prevent re-injuring the same area. As the muscles regain their strength, you will be building for a better future.

The Importance of a Medical Opinion

The first step in treatment is to visit a shoulder specialist, who can correctly analyze your symptoms and assess the problem. Even if the first doctor you see is not the one who treats you, or performs a surgical operation, it is important to get an accurate understanding of what is wrong. After this, you will have a clear idea of whether you require shoulder surgery.

Book Your Consultation Today

Have you suffered a shoulder injury? If you are in pain, have lost mobility, or think you may need shoulder surgery, contact GPOA (Greater Pittsburgh Orthopaedic Associates) in and around Pittsburgh, PA. We will gladly evaluate your situation and start to design a treatment plan for you. Contact us today and schedule your personal consultation!