If you need to see a shoulder orthopedic surgeon, then you are seeing a specialist in the orthopedic field. An orthopedic surgeon is one who treats injuries and diseases of the muscular and skeletal systems. As such, they treat conditions that affect the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. They can treat such conditions as arthritis, bone tumors, osteoporosis, fractures, dislocations and ruptured discs.
Orthopedic surgeons can be generalists or specialists. If the latter, they can work in any of the following fields:
- Joint Replacement
- Reconstructive Surgery
- Shoulder and Elbow
- Sports Medicine
Parts of the Shoulder
The shoulder is the most flexible joint in the body and thus lets the arm move in many different ways. A properly working shoulder lets the arm move in front of and behind the body, above the body, and to the side. That flexibility, unfortunately, makes the shoulder vulnerable to injury and instability to the point where a shoulder orthopedic surgeon may be needed.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that involves three bones: clavicle (collar bone), scapula (shoulder blade) and humerus (upper arm). The acromion is the upper part of the shoulder blade, and it projects over the shoulder joint. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint connects the collarbone to the shoulder blade.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that covers the shoulder joint and joint capsule. It attaches the upper arm to the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff is also attached to muscles that enable a person to lift their arm, reach overhead, throw and swim.
The bursa is a sac-like membrane that sits between the rotator cuff and the shoulder blade. It serves as a cushion and also lubricates the shoulder blade and rotator cuff to keep them moving easily.
What are some of the conditions that a specialist in shoulder problems might work on?
- Impingement and partial rotator cuff tears are often caused by chronic inflammation and the development of spurs on the underside of the AC joint or the acromion. Nonsurgical treatments like physical therapy or cortisone injections help most cases.
- Full thickness rotator cuff tears can be caused by falls, heavy lifting – or not treating partial rotator cuff tears. They generally respond to nonsurgical treatments, but surgery can be necessary if the pain continues or there is otherwise little improvement. A full rotator cuff tear requires extensive rehabilitation in order for you to regain the full use of your shoulder.
- Instability occurs when the head of the arm bone is forced out of its socket. The instability can be partial (subluxation) or complete (dislocation). If you have chronic instability, the shoulder dislocates repeatedly. Chronic instability generally requires surgery followed by physical therapy.
- Bursitis or tendinitis is generally caused by overuse and/or repetitive movements like those associated with swimming, weightlifting or painting. Such activities cause impingement (squeezing or rubbing) of the rotator cuff in the AC joint and under the acromion. Treatment consists of altering or reducing the activities that cause the problem, treating the pain, and physical therapy.
- Orthopedic surgeons also frequently treat fractures, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
What’s involved in an orthopedic evaluation?
An orthopedic evaluation of the shoulder has three components: medical history, physical exam, and diagnostic tests.
During the medical history portion, you and your doctor and will discuss your current condition, including how long you’ve had your symptoms, and how limited your range of motion is. Your doctor will also want to know about previous injuries and surgeries. They will also want to want to know about any medications you have been taking, whether they are prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal supplements.
During the physical exam, your doctor will look for abnormalities like swelling or deformity. He will look for weakness and instability, and he will check your range of motion. Diagnostic tests like X-rays will be taken with the shoulder in different positions. Computed topography (CT) scans can be used to assess shoulder bones, while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) might be used to examine soft tissues.
After the evaluation, your doctor will discuss their findings with you. They will then describe the best treatment options. If you and your doctor agree that surgery is the best option, your shoulder orthopedic surgeon will describe the possible complications and risks. They may suggest that you donate your own blood if needed. Your doctor will then discuss the expected aftercare with you. In some cases, you may need to stay in the hospital for several days and/or you may need to have someone stay at home with you help you during your recovery.
When should I go to a shoulder specialist?
If you have just injured yourself, you need to get to a doctor or hospital immediately if any of the following are true:
- You can’t use your shoulder or move your arm away from your body
- Your shoulder looks deformed
- You’re in extreme pain that isn’t subsiding
- There is sudden swelling
Less severe symptoms may still warrant an orthopedic surgeon’s attention. You should schedule an appointment in the event of the following:
- Tenderness and warmth around the joint
- A chronic problem of any type that is not getting better
Most shoulder problems can be treated with medication, physical therapy or other non-surgical treatments if they are caught early. Ignoring a problem will only let it get worse. If you let a problem go on too long, your orthopedic surgeon may have no choice but to operate.
Self-care can work for minor problems. In such cases, you should rest your shoulder and avoid using it in ways that trigger pain. You should apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day and take over-the-counter pain relievers. If such measures don’t help, you should call your doctor.
Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with one of the top shoulder orthopedic surgeons in the area. Feel free to ask us any questions you might have about the diagnostic process or your treatment options.