Shoulder Pain: What’s Causing Yours and How Massage Therapy can Help
David Weintraub, LMT is the owner of Bodyworks DW. In this blog, he writes about shoulder pain massage in New York City. What causes shoulder pain and how can massage help?
Shoulder pain is one of the most common issues people face today. The shoulder is a very complex set of muscles and bones designed for a large variety of movements. In order to gain that freedom of movement, evolution had to sacrifice some stability. This makes shoulders especially vulnerable to injury. Both impact injuries such as a torn rotator cuff, and overuse injuries such as a pinched nerve. Thankfully, shoulder pain massage can work wonders on many types of shoulder pain.
How Your Shoulders Work - Two Joints, Not Just One!
The shoulder actually consists of two distinct joints, the shoulder joint and the shoulder girdle.
The Shoulder Joint
The arm bone (humerus) connected to socket of the shoulder blade makes up the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint allows for movement of the arm in many directions. All while keeping the shoulder blade locked in place. Your shoulder joint can move your arm forwards, backwards, sideways. As well as rotating your arm in the socket.
There are many different muscles that attached to the humerus and allow for these movements. The pectoral major, latissimus, and deltoid create forwards, backwards, and sideways movements of the arm. The rotator cuff set of muscles creates rotational movements. Contrary to popular belief there is no “rotator cuff muscle.” The rotator cuff actually refers to a set of 4 different muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres major, and subscapularis.
The Shoulder Girdle
The shoulder girdle is made up of the shoulder blade and clavicle (collarbone) and their relation to the ribcage. The shoulder girdle allow for movement of the shoulder around the ribcage without having to move the arm. When you roll your shoulders without lifting your arms you are moving your shoulder girdle joints.
There are a lot of different muscles that move the shoulder girdle. These include trapezius, rhomboids, levator scapula, serratus anterior, and pectoralis minor. Interestingly, the shoulder girdle bones are basically free floating on top of the rib cage. The clavicle is attached to the sternum by ligaments in the way we think of most joints working. With the bones close together and separated by cartilage. There is a ligament that attaches the shoulder blade to the ribs. However, it is long and allows for a lot of movement. Making it unlike other ligaments in the body. This ligament's basic function is to keep the shoulder girdle from shifting too far in any direction.
Common Shoulder Pain Inducing Injuries and How Shoulder Pain Massage Can Help
Rotator Cuff Tear/Tendonitis
Of all the types of shoulder injuries, we hear about rotator cuff tears most often. The four rotator cuff muscles are especially vulnerable to small, medium, and large tears. Usually due to impact injuries. Slipping on the ice or stairs and catching your fall with your arm is a common way to rip one of these muscles.
Pain usually shows up with certain arm movements and not others and can range from mild aches, to sharp debilitating pain.
I once worked on a mountain climber whose rigging failed and he started falling. Luckily he caught himself with one hand. Unluckily, he managed to tear all four of his rotator cuff muscles. And his labrum (the ligaments holding the humerus or “armbone” to the scapula or “shoulder blade”). The pure adrenaline flood that his body pumped him with allowed him to still pull himself up to safety and finish the climb. Later after he was safe on the ground and the adrenaline wore off, he stopped being able to lift his arm!
Tennis players, baseball pitchers, and football quarterbacks run into this injury a lot. Throwing something over and over can eventually stress out the muscles. And lead to small tears in the tendons. Usually after a few years of this, they push too hard in a game and a big tear opens up.
Shoulder pain massage therapy can help a lot with all kinds of rotator cuff injuries. By working directly on the four muscles, as well as the other shoulder joint muscles, a well trained massage therapist can restore range of motion. With most clients a series of sessions can bring back most to all of the original function.
In addition, massage therapy is amazing for athletes who use their rotator cuff who haven’t had the big blow out yet. We’ve worked on pro tennis players and pitchers and seen immediate increases in top serve and fastball speeds!
Bursitis & Frozen Shoulder
Both of these conditions can cause a total immobilization of the shoulder joint making it very difficult and painful to lift the arm in any direction. While technically different, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Pain is usually severe and the loss of movement has a big impact on daily life.
Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae. These are tiny fluid filled sacs that basically act as ball bearings for your tendons. They allow tendons to slide over bones at places where the bone might grind the tendon down.
Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is inflammation of the joint capsule itself. Like the name implies, it’s a “sticky” inflammation that prevents tissues from sliding across each other.
In both conditions, any movement of the shoulder joint causes inflamed tissues to rub against other tissues causing intense and immobilizing pain
Treating either condition may require medication, either a localized cortisone shot, oral muscle relaxants, and/or anti-inflammatories. In addition, physical therapy is needed to build strength back and slowly but surely unstick the tissues from each other. Shoulder pain massage therapy can help a great deal to speed this process along. Massage Therapy and physical therapy compliment each other very well. Done concurrently clients restore movement much faster than with either modality alone.
Nerve Impingement in either the Neck or the Shoulder & TOS (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome)
Another very common cause of shoulder pain is a pinched nerve. This can happen due to repetitive stress conditions that pull the head and shoulders forward. It can also happen due to an impact injury such as whiplash.
The nerves for the entire arm originate in the spine between the 4th and 7th cervical vertebrae. This set of nerves is called the Brachial Plexus. Brachial means “arm” in Latin. These nerves travel down through the upper shoulder underneath the levator scapula muscles. Then they pass under the scalene muscles of the front of your neck.
Next, under the pectoralis minor muscles, then between the subscapularis and serratus anterior muscles. There is opportunity for a nerve impingement by the bones or muscles of the spine, as well as any of the muscles the nerves pass between. Nerves that get impinged in between muscles of the armpit are often called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Overly tight muscles on one side can be a culprit as well as scar tissue sticking to the nerves due to injury
Impinged nerves can cause dull achy pain that travels throughout the shoulder, to sharp pain, weakness, or muscle cramping. It can also involve tingling, numbness, or burning pain. The pain can be constant or only occur with particular movements.
If the impingement is caused by a structural issue, such as a malformed bone due to a break, surgery may be the only recourse. However, if the impingement is caused due to muscle imbalances shoulder pain massage can do a lot to relieve you. Myofascial release work can unstick scar tissue from nerves as well as create space between the muscles for nerves. Physical therapy to strengthen weaker muscles can help retain the relief.
Treatment With Shoulder Pain Massage in New York at Bodyworks DW
Shoulder pain can range from slightly annoying to truly awful. We forget how often we use our shoulder until simply putting on a coat becomes a painful time consuming affair.
Thankfully, most shoulder pain is treatable and shoulder pain massage in New York at our studio is here to help. At Bodyworks DW each session is custom tailored to a client’s individual needs. We give you a thorough intake so that we can determine exactly what the cause of your shoulder pain is and how best to treat it.
The number of sessions depends on the type of pain and cause
In addition, we may recommend fewer massage therapy session if you are also seeing a physical therapist. Work usually involves local deep tissue work on all of the muscles of the shoulder joint and girdle, as well as the deeper neck muscles. Follow up sessions will likely also focus on improving overall posture to help the shoulders sit comfortably balanced on the ribcage. This will allow all of the shoulder muscles to relax and heal. And the relief will last much longer with future episodes less likely.
It’s never too late to be pain-free and feel comfortable in daily life again. We offer shoulder pain massage in Midtown and the Financial District in New York City.
If you would like to schedule an amazing shoulder pain massage experience, please contact Bodyworks DW today or click the button to book online at our massage therapy midtown or massage therapy fidi studios.