Tag Archive for: Shoulder Injuries

An Active Retirement: Getting Back To Doing What I Love

Article first published on Farrer Park Hospital

Painful and stiff shoulders in your later years do not have to hold you back from keeping fit and pursuing activities you enjoy. That was a priority for Madam Sakina Hoosenally, in her 70s, when she considered treatment options for her shoulder arthritis. She shared with us about her experience of living with shoulder arthritis and why she decided to go ahead with the surgery.

An Active Retirement

Though retired, Madam Sakina still taught yoga classes in the morning. She also swam daily when the weather permitted. Staying on her own, she desired to live independently for as long as possible.

Several years ago, both of her shoulders started causing her pain. She also had a hard time lifting her arms. “I found it was coming in the way of my yoga teaching … I couldn’t do many of the poses and it was just very frustrating,” she said.

Though the pain was not unbearable – she noted that many people could live with it – she found that it was interfering with her way of life, such as cooking for herself and affecting her sleep.

She reflected that she is now in her early 70s, and if she lives till her 90s, it won’t do to prolong the discomfort.

Seeking Treatment

After visiting several doctors, a friend recommended Dr. Ruben Manohara to Madam Sakina, a consultant orthopedic surgeon specializing in trauma management, sports injuries, and degenerative conditions.

Dr. Manohara diagnosed Madam Sakina with severe osteoarthritis of the shoulders. Shoulder arthritis affects 16% to 20% of those older than 65 years of age1, although it can occur as early as your 40s and 50s. In terms of its prevalence, he explained that there is no Singapore registry/data on shoulder-specific arthritis.

“Shoulder arthritis can be degenerative from overuse as well as genetic causes, from rheumatoid arthritis, from previous trauma, following massive rotator cuff tear and could occur following a joint infection,” he added. Besides the age related factor, he said the other risks factors include gender, race, suffering from gout and shoulder instability.

The condition refers to damage, usually wear and tear, of the cartilage, which covers the ends of bones to create a low-friction environment and allows the bones to glide smoothly over each other when the joints move. When the cartilage breaks down, the exposed bones may rub against each other and cause pain.

Symptoms often include shoulder pain, weakness, swelling or tenderness at the joint, and pain that could last for months or years2.

Dr. Manohara recalled that at that point, Madam Sakina had already tried treatments such as steroid injections and non-medical treatment like acupuncture, ayurvedic and physiotherapy, but to no avail. She was also unwilling to take painkillers over the long term and sought to resolve the pain with shoulder replacement surgery. “I was looking to restoring my mobility, and allowed me to continue exercising and teaching, and get on with my daily lifestyle.”

“When I first saw her in 2021, she was already living with the condition for four years. A replacement would have predictable, reliable good outcomes, in terms of pain relief, function and longevity of the implant,” Dr. Manohara explained.

“Such surgery would allow her to carry on with yoga, swimming, and other daily activities without pain and sleep without discomfort.

In addition, downtime was not an issue – even patients in their 70s to 80s usually recovered relatively quickly and easily after the procedure, compared to other major joint replacements.

For Madam Sakina, her friends’ support also helped her decide to go for surgery for her right shoulder.

The Key to Good Recovery

Following the smooth recovery of her right shoulder, Madam Sakina opted to also undergo surgery for her left shoulder about six to seven months later. She had her sights set on both shoulders being mobile enough for her to execute the downward facing dog pose and salutations in yoga that she had not been able to do for some years. She also wanted to be able to swim the freestyle stroke, which required both shoulders.

To her, an upbeat attitude was a huge help in recovering from the procedures. “Having gratitude and having a positive outlook is very important in recovery in your rehab,” she said. Madam Sakina also highlighted the importance of having a goal to look forward.

During the healing process, Madam Sakina was cautious when carrying heavy items such as groceries, usually using the arm that was not operated on to lift these. She also waited for a few more weeks before getting back to driving.

“I focus and work hard through exercise and regular physiotherapy to help me get back my mobility. For me, my right shoulder healed in 4 to 5 months after the operation while my left is about 90% healed 4 months since my surgery in March. For patients who are not dedicated to the rehab, it might take much longer,” she added.

After getting replacement surgery for both shoulders, carrying out her yoga poses was “much better than before”.

Aspiration for Health and Lifestyle

Looking back at the process of seeking and receiving treatment for shoulder arthritis, Madam Sakina said that the decision to undergo shoulder replacement surgery depends on the person’s aspiration for health and lifestyle.

“Not everyone may have the same urgency, need, or shared my goals.”

Receiving the treatment aligned with her personal life goals of sustaining her yoga practice and living independently for as long as possible. Though her left shoulder is still in the process of recovering, she is grateful for her regained mobility. She acknowledges that while a lot of hard work went into her rehabilitation, her mindset is that “it’s not going to get worse. It can only get better.

Don’t Live with Shoulder Pain

Pain in the Arm 

“You know that feeling in your shoulder. It is a nagging ache and it goes down your deltoid. You cannot lie on your favorite side when you sleep and now you cannot rest well. You are starting to have problems with washing your hair and don’t even get started with putting on T-shirts and hanging up your clothes. This pain is affecting your swing/ stroke/bat. Come to think of it, it is getting to your other shoulder too.”

These are the common problems my patients with shoulder pain have to deal with on a daily basis. Three main issues bother such patients. Pain, Movement, Function which is a symptom translated from the pain and lack on motion.

The pain often radiates down the arm but stops short at the deltoid because the inflammation of the bursae (fluid filled sac) extends there. There is usually no numbness of the arm unlike a pinged neck nerve (cervical spine radiculopathy)

Functionally, the patient cannot raise the arm and thus is unable to wash his/her hair or face. The pain affect his/her sports performance. Often, the patient finds that he/she cannot follow through during the golf swing, have weaker strokes at the baseline or is having a weaker pitch.

Not everyone with Shoulder Pain is Frozen

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. It is akin to golf ball on a golf tee (with the ball 3 times the size of tee) within a House.

Shoulder Pain, Living with Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Elbow Orthopaedic

Looking at the diagram, there is a Roof (Supraspinatus tendon), a Front door (Subscapularis tendon) and a Back door (Infraspinatus and Teres Minor). Above the Roof, there is a Tree Branch (Acromion Spur). One of the reasons why there is a tear is because the Tree Branch keeps hitting the Roof and makes a Hole in the Roof (Cuff Tear). With a Hole, it leaks when it Rains and that can be quite a Pain!!

The Golf Tee (glenoid) is pretty flat and there is a CUP made of material that looks like Young Coconut Flesh (Labrum). This deepens the golf tee and makes the shoulder joint a more congruent one.

Shoulder Pain, Living with Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Elbow Orthopaedic, Biceps Tendon

There are three main common causes I see. These are:

  • Rotator cuff problems
  • Instability (labral problems)
  • Frozen shoulder

In my practice, Rotator Cuff problems outnumber instability 3:1 and Rotator Cuff problems outnumber frozen shoulder 4:1. Therein lies the necessity for a proper diagnosis. This is where a “completely new and innovative INVESTIGATION” technique becomes extremely important.

Let me introduce: a Proper History and Physical Examination

Even before we look into doing any scans, I believe that through a proper understanding of the patient’s problems and symptoms, finding out what exactly is affecting the patient, followed by a targeted physical examination looking for specific signs; a proper provisional diagnosis can be made. Using this knowledge, the X-rays and scans can then guide us like a satellite navigation map to decide what needs to be done for the patient. I believe that patients are the ones to be treated and not the scans.


Cuff problems

This is commonly also known as五十肩 (50 year old Shoulder), Urat bahu bengkak and commonly includes:

  • Impingement
  • Cuff Tendinosis
  • Cuff Tears which can be incomplete, complete or
  • Massive tear which can be Irreparable
  • Cuff tear Arthropathy (CTA)

Frozen shoulder

This is also known as Adhesive Capsulitis. As its name suggest, the shoulder is FROZEN. This means that the shoulder is stuck both actively (moves by its own power) and passively (moved by the other arm or someone else). It can be Primary (no one really knows why type) vs Secondary (caused by something else). Risk factors for Primary Frozen shoulder commonly include:

  • Endocrine causes (Diabetes Mellitus, Thyroid problems),
  • Neurological causes (Stroke)
  • Heart (Heart attack)
  • Secondary frozen shoulder can be due to shoulder fractures, Cuff issues or Labral issues too.
  • Labral Injuries

These often occur after an injury. Patients may have had a dislocation or a subluxation (partial dislocation) previously and the symptom of the shoulder being unstable is recurrent now. The labrum may tear at different areas and in additional to instability; patients may often complain of pain and may have painful clicks in the shoulder during certain movement. A proper examination will include looking for signs of instability, other types of labral tears and signs of generalised hyperlaxity (Loose jointed).

Don’t live with it!  

“See your doctor cos something can be done”

I cannot emphasize enough that a Proper History and Physical Examination leading to targeted Investigations will then bring about a Proper Diagnosis. This will include locating the source of pain, Range of Motion tests and Special tests. For labral injuries, we look out for Hyperlaxity Signs too. Thereafter, Xrays, Ultrasound and/or MRI/ CT scans are done and interpreted together with looking at the patient’s problems.


Get back your Swing

This will be based on the diagnosis and looking at what exactly is bothering the patient. (At Roland Shoulder & Orthopaedic Clinic, We Help Patients not Treat Scans)

Cuff problems

This depends on whether there is a hole in the roof or not and how big the hole is and if it is a complete hole.

If there is no hole, an incomplete hole or small hole, NON OPERATIVE management lasting for 3-6 months is often started. (There is nothing CONSERVATIVE about not operating)

This includes

  • Controlling Inflammation and pain – Analgesia (pain killers) and/or  NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs)
  • Subacromial (below the tree branch) Hydrocortisone & Lignocaine injections (I usually use 1% lignocaine with Triamcinolone)
  • Physiotherapy
    • Mobility Exercises
    • Strengthening of the
      • External and Internal Rotators

  Biceps

  Triceps

  Deltoid

  Scapular Stabilisers

For patients with Acute tears (occurring after an injury), Large Complete tears or patients that have failed non operative management, Surgery is offered. In my practice, a large majority of cuff problems which require surgery is done through Key Hole techniques now. This includes

  • Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression and rotator cuff repair which is shaving down the offending tree branch above the roof and repairing the roof and/or repairing the front door too if that is torn.
  • Arthroscopic Mumford procedure (distal clavicle resection) if that is giving the patient problems .
  • Addressing the Biceps tendon (Tenotomy/Tenodesis) if that is giving patients problems .

Shoulder Pain, Living with Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Elbow Orthopaedic

A large majority of shoulder problems are treated using key hole (Arthroscopic) techniques as they are can usually produce equal results to open surgery. Patients often have less pain, a shorter hospital stay and the scars are cosmetically more pleasing.


Shoulder Pain, Living with Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Elbow Orthopaedic

However, this is not suitable for all cases and this depends of the condition and severity of the problem.


Frozen Shoulder

Primary Frozen shoulders follow a process of Freezing, Frozen and then Thawing. The thawing process can occasionally, unfortunately, last for a very long time of up to a year or 2. Seeing a doctor early will allow us to:

  • Ensure that the it is truly a Frozen shoulder. (again through a proper history/ physical examination/ appropriate scan/s)
  • Find out if it is cause by another shoulder problem (Secondary Frozen Shoulder)
  • Speed up the thawing process or if necessary, BREAK the ICE!

Speeding up the thawing process includes:

Non operative management of Glenohumeral H&L (injecting into the house itself), Physiotherapy, Medication like pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications. It is important to treat underlying issues if it is a secondary cause.

In my practice, if all else fails, I offer to break the ice but under direct vision. I kinda like to see what I intend to break. As such, I offer an Arthroscopic Capsular Release



For patients with labral injuries, if recurrent instability is the main problem, surgery should be considered early. This is because in younger patients, the risk of persistent instability is very high. With each dislocation, the risk of getting a large piece of the golf tee being broken off (Bony Bankart) or the golf ball being cored in (Hil sachs Lesion) becomes higher. As such, I offer Arthroscopic Shoulder Stabilisation (Keyhole stabilisation surgery) where the torn labrum can be repaired. This is for patients without a large piece of the golf tee that is broken off or a large part of the golf ball being cored. Unfortunately, if that happens, open procedures to restore the bone loss usually at the side of the golf tee may then be suitable.  

For some patients with a SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior Posterior) tears (top part of the cup) or a posterior labral tear (back part of the cup), pain and clicking is the main problem. For patients with SLAP tear, I believe that a trial of non operative Management should first commence. This must include Scapular Stabilisation exercises so as to provide a stable platform for the shoulder joint to mobilise. Only if that fails, I will then offer surgery to address the SLAP tear. In patients with posterior labral injuries complaining of pain and clicks, ASS can be offered to repair the cup.


What if the Whole House is Damaged?

For patients with Cuff Tear Arthropathy (damage to the shoulder cartilage due to prolonged roof tendon tear) and usually for patients > 65years, the option of a joint replacement is offered. This is because with the cartilage being worn out, a repair or replacement of the roof tendons will not resolve the arthritis causing the pain. In patients with CTA, a Reverse Shoulder Arthroplasty (RSA) is usually offered.


Shoulder Pain, Living with Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Elbow Orthopaedic

This is a replacement surgery and it offers excellent pain relieve, a good functional Range of Motion of 140-150 degrees of forwards flexion. Patients can return to daily upper limb activities like comb/ wash hair, wash face, brush teeth after surgery.


In conclusion, you don’t have to live with your shoulder pain. Seek help early if the shoulder strain simply doesn’t go away after 2-3 weeks. A proper History and Physical Examination and Appropriate Investigations will usually lead to a Diagnosis and proper Treatment.

Q&A: Help! Experiencing shoulder pains when swimming


I’m just came back from my offseason and have started training again. I’m experiencing shoulder pains when I swim that I never had before. What are the possible reasons and what are the things I can do to keep it healthy for my new season?

Dr Roland Chong answers: 

Your pain sounds mechanical as it is exacerbated by swimming. There are several causes of mechanical shoulder pain ranging from those arising from the neck (cervical spine) to problems within the shoulder joint itself. The most common causes of persistent pain arising from the shoulder joint seen in triathletes include rotator cuff problems (impingement), acromioclavicular joint arthrosis(wear and tear), biceps (long head) tendonitis(inflammation)/ tendinosis(microtears) and labral (shoulder joint shock absorber) injury.

The location of the pain and association with other symptoms like loss of range of motion and clicking helps with differentiating the sources of pain. Pain on overhead activity, like those during the front crawl in swimming, suggests that impingement may be the most likely cause of your pain. Pain located at the acromioclavicular joint (protruding part at the end of the collar bone) or the long head of the biceps tendon (at the front of the shoulder joint) suggests problems there. Labral injuries often may result in sensations of instability, deep seated pain and also painful clicking.

I would recommend that if the pain is persistent and is hampering your training, a quick visit to your doctor should be considered. Also, ask yourself if the pain is affecting your daily activities like washing of hair, dressing or sleeping on your side. That suggests that the pain may be affecting your daily life in addition to your sporting lifestyle.

With a thorough history, proper physical examination and perhaps a targeted investigation, the root cause of your pain can be isolated and addressed accordingly. Often, improving the scapular (shoulder blade) stability and modification of your swimming stroke can help a lot in preventing the pain from recurring.

To reduce injuries to the shoulder joint, scapular stabilization exercises are important and can be easily done. I often recommend my patients to start by pulling their shoulder blades backwards, imagining they are trying to crack a nut between the blades. They are to hold that position for 10 seconds, doing it at least 5-6 times a day. Of course, if there is persistent pain that affects your daily life or sporting lifestyle, seeking help early at your doctor’s will help with getting back your second wind quickly.

Tag Archive for: Shoulder Injuries