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Programs and services : Orthopedic Surgery : Q & A

Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine


What do you know about osteoporosis?

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Why would I have chronic pain in my shoulder?


Matthew Carpenter, MD
Our shoulders have a wide range of motion to perform numerous activities that require flexibility to throw, lift, push and do other tasks requiring mobility. When muscles and ligaments that hold the shoulder together are stretched beyond their normal limits, discomfort or pain results.

What is shoulder instability or separation?

Shoulder instability results when the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint is too loose and the shoulder slides around in the socket. This is usually a secondary issue following if you tear or stretch the shoulder ligaments or dislocate the shoulder. When the collarbone or clavicle separates from a part of the shoulder blade called the acromion, shoulder separation results. This condition, which can be quite painful, causes a large bump on the top of the shoulder where your collarbone protrudes. Shoulder separation can generally be treated with rehabilitation.

What is frozen shoulder?

A frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition where the capsule in the shoulder thickens and becomes tight, limiting the range of motion. This can be secondary to an injury but is more often spontaneous. Healing may take several months.

What is a dislocated shoulder?

This very painful, incapacitating injury is caused by a sudden violent force on the shoulder, The strong rotator cuff muscles and ligaments holding the shoulder keep the humerus in the socket but a forceful jolt can put the humerus out of the socket. The result is immediate pain and inability to move the shoulder. In this case, seek medical attention immediately.

Does a torn rotator cuff always require rotator cuff surgery?

Rotator cuff injuries are most often caused by activities where you stretch an arm overhead for long periods or try to lift or catch heavy objects with the arm extended. You may have soreness only during certain activities or you may have pain so intense that activity and sleep are negatively impacted. Whether or not you need surgery depends on the extent of the injury.

Can shoulder pain be caused by overuse?

Yes, when you suddenly increase your activity level, you may place too much stress on the shoulder. It's best to gradually increase activity.

What should I do if I have shoulder pain?

If you sustain a high-energy injury to the shoulder and fear that you may have broken or dislocated your shoulder, seek immediate medical attention. However, if your injury isn't debilitating or your shoulder pain is due to overuse, you can first try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) therapy. If your condition doesn't improve and/or the pain continues for more than a week, see your primary care doctor or an orthopedic specialist for evaluation.

Matthew Carpenter, MD, works at Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Bismarck. Carpenter specializes in arthroscopic knee and shoulder surgery, total joint arthroplasty, and orthopedic surgery and trauma. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and completed a residency in orthopedic surgery at Medical College of Wisconsin Affiliated Hospitals in Milwaukee.

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