The shoulder is more than just a ball and socket joint. It is a very mobile joint supported by a number of ligaments and strong muscles. There are other smaller joints that make up the shoulder complex along with the ball and socket, and all have their own functions and susceptibilities.
The elbow is mainly a hinge joint, but there are additional joints to incorporate the two forearm muscles. The elbow is much less mobile than the shoulder, which may be why we see a lot fewer elbow injuries in clinic. But there are still things that can go wrong, and ways in which your osteopath can help.
Sports injuries can cause a number of shoulder problems. These can be immediate or further down the line after insufficient rehabilitation. Read about sports injuries such as labrum tears here.
This is a non-exhaustive collection of conditions your osteopath is qualified to help you with:
Osteoarthritis can affect the ball and socket joint. As this joint is similar to the hip in its structure, arthritis affects it in a similar way.
As with anywhere else, there is always something that can be done to make an arthritic shoulder more comfortable. Working to release the muscles that are guarding the joint is one step in the direction of improving movement. If the movement can be improved, the cartilage can begin to heal, or at least slow the progress of the arthritis.
Your osteopath will also look at any adaptations your body has made to compensate for lost movement. This improves joint and muscle health globally- not just at the affected joint.
Tendinopathy is a term that encompasses tendinitis/tendonitis and tendinosis. It refers to inflammation of the tendon- in this case the tendon of biceps brachii.
Usually the long head of biceps is affected, but not the short head. The long head attaches onto the shoulder blade before running very closely to the ball and socket joint. It may be because of this close proximity that it is susceptible to irritation, especially by repeated overuse such as overhead throwing.
Other conditions also predispose the development of biceps tendinopathy. Otherwise asymptomatic changes, such as those to ligaments around the scapula, can make this injury more likely. Or more obvious things, like rotator cuff injuries, can put added strain onto the biceps. There is also a link with shoulder instability, such as after a dislocation. It is important to get injuries like this checked out, even if they seem minor.
Rotator Cuff Injury
Following on from biceps, another commonly treated shoulder injury is of the rotator cuff. This is a collection of muscles around the shoulder blade that work together to rotate the arm.
A fall or other trauma, including sports injuries, can strain the rotator cuff. Conservative management is the recommended first line of treatment. When the injury is mild enough, you can avoid surgery and the shoulder can be rehabilitated by your osteopath.
Preventing your shoulder injury is better than curing it!
You may notice that a lot of shoulder injuries are associated with overhead throwing. If you do a sport that requires this movement, or work in a role that leads to a lot of overhead work, preventative treatment may be a good strategy for you to avoid an injury. Book in here.
We see much fewer elbow problems than shoulder problems in clinic, but that’s not to say we can’t still help. One of the most common elbow complains is epicondylitis: tennis elbow and golfers elbow. This condition is easy to identify and there is plenty that can be done in the treatment room and at home to speed up its recovery. To read more about epicondylitis, see our full post on the topic.
The elbow is a hinge joint, and it is supported by a lot of ligaments. Injuries that force the elbow to straighten too far, or bend slightly sideways, can cause a sprain. This usually affects the big ligament on the inside of the elbow.
One common mechanism of injury is a fall onto an outstretched hand which can cause the elbow to buckle back. This movement is limited by ligaments as well as bone. In high power injuries it is important to check that there is no fracture.
If your injury is confirmed to be a purely soft tissue injury (or if the fracture is healing well), your osteopath can step in. Ligaments have a poor blood supply, so need to be surrounded by healthy fluid to heal quickly. This means that some swelling is actually helpful- but it is important not to let that fluid stagnate. Your osteopath can help with flushing the old fluid back towards the heart. They can also give you exercises to encourage the same movement at home.
Ligament injuries can be slow to heal, but it is important not to over-protect the injury. Immobilising an elbow sprain unnecessarily can make you more likely to develop frozen shoulder. As the ligament heals, your osteopath will encourage you to start moving it as much as is appropriate. This helps the fibres knit back together in the correct direction, making a stronger ligament than a poorly rehabilitated one.
Bursae are fat pads found all over the body, sitting between bones and soft tissue as a cushion. Their role is to prevent friction. The one sitting on the tip of the elbow is the olecranon bursitis, and it can form an egg-sized lump when irritated by prolonged repeated pressure. One cause of this could be sitting at a desk with a bent elbow resting heavily on the table. This is why we also call it “student elbow”.
Beyond advising you to stop applying pressure to the elbow like this, your osteopath can help by looking further afield. There may be a relationship with the triceps muscle or other local structures that can be addressed. There may even be a tightness in the back that encourages leaning to that side. Your osteopath will look at the body as a whole to get to the root cause.
If you have a problem with your shoulder or elbow, make your appointment to get it sorted here.