Shoulder Pain Could Be a Warning for Heart Disease Risk Factors

JANUARY 11, 2017
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
cardiology, heart disease, pain management, shoulder pain, cardiovascular disease, joint pain, rotator cuff tendinopathy, risk factors

What does a sore shoulder have to do with cardiovascular health? Quite a bit actually, according to researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine.

In a recent study, the team examined the connection between shoulder pain, including joint pain and rotator cuff injury, and heart disease. Past studies have connected heart disease with other conditions, like carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis, and all musculoskeletal disorders.

“If someone has rotator cuff problems, it could be a sign that there is something else going on. They may need to manage risk factors for heart disease,” lead author, Kurt Hegmann, MD, MPH, professor of Family and Preventive Medicine, said in a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 47% of Americans have at least one of the three leading heart disease risk factors—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Hegmann and colleagues looked at these components as well as diabetes.

The most frequently reported cause of shoulder pain is repeated physical stress—which can be attributed to jobs, in some cases. However, heart disease risk factors could be even more important when looking at shoulder pain.

The team looked at 1,226 skilled laborers to assess the connection. “Ergonomists carefully monitored airbag manufacturers, meat processors, cabinet makers, and skilled laborers,” the statement said. “Every forceful twist, push, and pull was factored into a strain index assigned to each worker.”

It may seem like common sense that a more straining job would link to more shoulder problems—but this wasn’t the case. Even higher levels of additional physical activity weren't linked to more shoulder pain.

“What we think we are seeing is that high force can accelerate rotator cuff issues but is not the primary driver,” Hegmann, who is also the director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.

The 36 participants who had the most heart disease risk factors were 4.6 times more likely to have shoulder joint pain and six times more likely to have a second shoulder condition, rotator cuff tendinopathy, when compared with those who had zero risk factors. Those with a mid-level amount of risk factors were less likely to have those shoulder problems by 1.5 to three-fold.

Taking these results a step further, the team found that the more risk factors someone had, the more likely they were to have shoulder pain.

“Cardiovascular disease risk factors could be more important than job factors for incurring these types of problems,” Hegmann said.

Although additional research is needed, these results suggest that managing heart disease risk factors could help shoulder discomfort.

The study, “Association Between Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy: Cross-Sectional Study,” was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The news release was provided by the University of Utah Health Care.

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