Helping women overcome shoulder pain

October 21, 2011 2:56:25 PM PDT
Women are playing sports well into their senior years, and some of those sports mean exerting the shoulder overhead.

That's been leading to a bunch of shoulder problems seen more in women than in men.

"The worst time was nighttime because I was trying to rest and all of a sudden I would roll over and hit my shoulder," Elizabeth Van Wynen said.

Van Wynen told me about shoulder pain, which was going on for three years before she saw surgeon Sabrina Sutherland.

"I also had an MRI that I brought that showed I had tears in the rotator cuff," Van Wynen said.

Women such as Ms. Van Wynen have more of this problem than men.

"Parts of our body were not meant to last so our shoulders were not meant to be sedentary rather than out in the field, and were not meant to last to 80 or 90 years old," Dr. Stickland said.

Women have also been playing more overhead sports later into their lives, putting stress on areas such as the rotator cuff. It's made of four muscles. The one on the top of the shoulder is most important.

"It doesnt' have very much space and there's a bone called the acromion, and it can pinch that muscle and it gets sore and inflamed and it can tear," Dr. Stickland said.

She repaired Elizabeth's tear surgically. Frozen shoulders which are stiff and don't move well are also more common in women, who can't reach behind their backs to pull zippers, can't do their hair or have pain or weakness doing those things.

Most of the time, i try to give you tips on how to prevent problems. But it's hard to prevent aging, which leads to most shoulder problems.

Lifting weights for women is not a bad idea to keep muscles strong. But if you have pain, stiffness or weakness, the best results are when women get help early on.

"I'd almost prefer that they come to see me directly rather than having a month delay while waiting to see their primary care doctor and then waiting to see me," Strickland said.

Some general doctors may have enough training to diagnose and treat shoulder problems. And physical therapy may be an option for some women. Dr. Strickland adds that preventing osteoporosis can limit broken shoulders if a woman has a fall. Ms. Van Wynen. She's out of pain, and says she's stronger now than before the surgery.