Rethinking Surgery for Chronic Shoulder Pain

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back-pain-1491803_640If you suffer from chronic shoulder pain, you know how much it can interfere with your everyday life. You might be noticing the problem even more than usual during the holiday season, when fun activities can suddenly be derailed by an excruciating bout of shoulder pain. A sudden flare-up can occur when you least expect it: like when you are reaching up to a high shelf to grab the cinnamon so you can bake holiday cookies, when you are hanging ornaments on the highest branches of your holiday tree, or when you trying to put up your holiday lights so your house can have the best display on the block. Chronic shoulder pain can also keep you up at night, leaving you too exhausted to enjoy the holiday festivities.

For some patients, unexplained chronic shoulder pain can become so debilitating that doctors recommend surgery. If you’re at your wits end and thinking about surgery, you may want to take a pause. A newly published study suggests that surgery may not make a meaningful difference for people with chronic shoulder pain. Read on to learn more about the study and what you might want to do instead of getting surgery.

Understanding Shoulder Impingement and the Associated Surgery

Shoulder impingement is the medical term used to describe unexplained chronic shoulder pain. Doctors aren’t sure what causes shoulder impingement, but they suspect that it can be caused by either the natural breakdown of the muscles and tendons in your shoulder as you get older, or by the rubbing of a bone spur against a tendon.

An increasingly popular surgical solution is subacromial decompression. In this procedure, a small hole is made in the shoulder, and a surgical instrument is inserted through the hole and used to remove bone and soft tissue from the affected area. The theory behind the procedure is that opening up the area through tissue removal will reduce some of the stress in the shoulder, which will lessen the pain.

Questioning the Procedure: A Recent Study in the UK

A group of researchers at the University of Oxford recently set out to determine whether the surgery really made a difference for patients with unexplained chronic shoulder pain. For their study, they recruited 300 patients who had been suffering from chronic shoulder pain for at least three months, and they divided them into three groups: the first group received no treatment, the second group received the subcromial decompression surgery, and the third group received a “placebo” surgery where a small hole was made in the shoulder, but no bone or soft tissue was removed. Before the experiment and six months after the surgeries, the patients in each group reported information about pain and shoulder function on a questionnaire.

The results, which were published in the journal The Lancet in November 2017, called the effectiveness of the subcromial decompression surgery into question. The researchers found that there was no significant difference in the outcomes of the patients who received the real surgery and those who received the placebo: the patients in both groups reported similar levels of pain and shoulder functionality after six months.

What the Results of the Study Mean for You

Doctors in the UK and the United States aren’t yet ready to disavow subcromial decompression surgery entirely, but they are starting to reconsider whether to recommend surgery to patients before all other options have been exhausted. After all, the recovery period after surgery can be a major interference in your life. And that can be especially disappointing if you end up reaping no significant benefit from the procedure.

Therefore, before you make the decision and say yes to shoulder surgery, you may want to consider trying massage therapy. There are multiple massage modalities that can help address unexplained chronic shoulder pain. For instance, deep tissue massage can increase blood flow in your shoulder and reduce muscle tension – relieving stress in the shoulder in much the same way that subcromial decompression surgery is supposed to do. Similarly, neuromuscular massage therapy (NMT) specifically targets tissues in the shoulder and promotes muscle relaxation. It can also help strengthen tissue that may have been damaged by a bone spur or through the natural aging process.

Both of these options are significantly less invasive than getting surgery – not to mention a lot less expensive! Before you decide to get surgery for shoulder impingement, you may want to talk to your doctor about massage and other alternatives. That way, you can make sure that the treatment you choose will be the best possible pain relief option for you.
Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness offers a variety of massage modalities, including deep tissue massage and neuromuscular massage therapy, and we are here to support your health this holiday season. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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