Physical therapy's role in addressing shoulder pain

pt-for-shoulder-pain

Many of the millions of people dealing with shoulder pain will see a physical therapist at some point in their journey toward pain relief. A physical therapist is a highly educated, licensed professional who treats a wide variety of injuries, diseases and chronic conditions.

The main goal of physical therapy is to improve your daily quality of life by decreasing your pain and increasing your strength and mobility. If you have pain or difficulty reaching for something on a high shelf, getting dressed, tucking in a shirt or reaching into your back pocket, or have been avoiding some of these activities due to pain, stiffness or weakness, it is likely that physical therapy can help.

How can physical therapy help with shoulder pain?

If your doctor recommends physical therapy, your therapist will examine your strength and range of motion, check your functional abilities (like reaching up and behind your back), ask you your goals and then come up with a personalized treatment plan to relieve your shoulder pain and restore your mobility.

Physical therapy treatments for shoulder pain may include: stretching, strengthening, joint mobilization/stabilization. Heat, ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation or athletic taping may be part of your physical therapy program as well.

Your physical therapist can also provide advice on activity modification and work-place ergonomics. Your physical therapist will also work with you to create a comprehensive home exercise program that will help you maintain your quality of life beyond your therapy sessions.

When can shoulder pain patients benefit from physical therapy?

Depending on the extent of your shoulder pain and your unique medical history, physical therapy may be a very effective non-surgical means of treatment. For issues like shoulder impingement, small rotator cuff tears and mild to moderate osteoarthritis, studies have shown that physical therapy can improve your quality of life, and in some cases, prevent surgical intervention.

However, if you and your doctor decide that surgery is the best option for you, physical therapy can still be an essential part of your road to recovery both before and after surgery. Your physician may choose to send you to physical therapy prior to surgery for a variety of reasons. The goals of your pre-surgical physical therapy could include strength development, education and development of a home exercise routine. This is known as “pre-hab”.

Research shows many patients who participate in pre-hab sessions with a physical therapist have faster surgical recovery times and need less intensive therapy afterwards. The stronger and more educated you are before surgery, the stronger and more confident you will be after.

Additionally, after any type of shoulder surgery, whether it is an arthroscopic procedure, a rotator cuff repair, or a partial or total joint replacement, you may be referred to a physical therapist for a short duration to help you regain your strength and flexibility, advance your home exercise program and get back to your previous work, family and recreational activities.

How do I get started with physical therapy?

Almost all insurance plans cover outpatient physical therapy (including Medicare and Medicaid), but you should check with your insurance provider to be sure yours does. In addition, you will need a prescription, or “script”, from a physician. This can be your primary care provider, a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) doctor, or an orthopedic surgeon.

Once you have your “script,” find the Beaumont Health physical therapy clinic closest to you and call for an appointment. We’d love to play a role in helping you overcome shoulder pain and get back to doing what you love.


Information provided by Yolanda Marie, Beaumont physical therapist.

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