Q&A Topic: Shoulder Pain—When to Seek Help

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Victor Khabie, MD, FAAOS, FACS


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Q. How will I know when it’s time to see a doctor?

A. Swelling, clicking, tenderness and warmth around the joint, or an inability to raise the arm above the shoulder are signs that it’s time to see an orthopedist. If an intense shoulder pain comes on suddenly—after a fall or an accident—you should get emergency help right away.In children, a common source of shoulder pain is from overuse—say, from throwing a baseball. If your child is experiencing shoulder pain after batting practice or a baseball game, it’s important to have it checked out. When a child complains of shoulder pain, the cause is often an injury to the growth plate, which if left untreated, could lead to permanent damage.

Q. My shoulder aches, but I can get by. Do I still need to get medical attention?

A. Many people ignore shoulder pain until it becomes unbearable. Too often the first time we see patients is when their shoulder pain is keeping them up at night. Don’t wait that long—it’s important to address shoulder pain as soon as it begins. Ignoring the pain can make the injury worse and might even cause irreversible damage. You’ll be able to return to an active, pain-free life much sooner after a diagnosis and treatment plan from an experienced orthopedist.

Q. How is shoulder pain treated?

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A. Initially, the prescription may be light physical therapy, ice, rest, and anti-inflammatory medicine (such as ibuprofen or naproxen). But if imaging of the shoulder reveals damage to the rotator cuff or surrounding structures, you may need to consult a surgeon. Arthroscopy, at Northern Westchester Hospital, allows the orthopedist to see inside your shoulder joint. A camera attached to a scope is inserted into the back of the shoulder, allowing the orthopedist to take images and precisely diagnose what needs to be repaired. Once a diagnosis is made, we will know which procedure is right for you.

Q. As an athlete, I’m nervous to get surgery. Will it hold me back from my sport?

A. While working as a ringside physician for the New York State Athletic Commission, I was approached by the trainer of a promising Staten Island boxer who was experiencing pain in his shoulder. He had previously been diagnosed with a sprain, but after taking a look I saw a complete tear of the rotator cuff that would be career ending without surgery. After a successful operation the boxer was back in the ring with full range of motion in his shoulder. This is a great example of how shoulder surgery can restore full function—even in top athletes.When shoulder surgery becomes necessary, our team of specialists at Northern Westchester Hospital work hard to get you back to your normal level of activity as soon as possible. Recovery is different for every individual. Fortunately though, modern techniques combined with minimally invasive incisions, deliver precision and accuracy—yielding faster recovery times. After surgery, our superb rehabilitation team will help you get back to physical activity, without shoulder pain holding you back.

Learn More About Dr. Khabie
Chief, Department of Surgery
Chief of Surgical Services
Co-Director, Orthopedic and Spine Institute
Director, Sports Medicine
Northern Westchester Hospital

Read Past Topics from Dr. Khabie:
Robot-Assisted Partial Knee Replacement
Sports-Related Knee Injuries

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Northern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System).

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