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Shoulder pain associated with heart disease risk factors

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People with symptoms that put them at increased risk for heart disease could also be more likely to have shoulder problems, including joint pain and rotator cuff injury.

That’s according to a new study led by investigators at the University of Utah School of Medicine, which found a strong association between cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk scores and both glenohumeral joint pain and rotator cuff tendinopathy.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“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,” said the study’s lead author Dr Kurt Hegmann, Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine and director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.

Previous research has shown that people who had an increased risk for heart disease also had a tendency toward carpal tunnel syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, tennis elbow and other musculoskeletal disorders.

The latest study adds shoulder problems to the list and takes the connection one step further, the University of Utah said. Dr Hegmann and colleagues found that the more heart disease risk factors that each of the study participants had — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — the more likely they were to have had shoulder trouble.

What’s more, a more physically demanding job or more time spent doing other physical activities did not translate into an increase in shoulder difficulties.

“What we think we are seeing is that high force can accelerate rotator cuff issues but is not the primary driver,” Dr Hegmann explained. “Cardiovascular disease risk factors could be more important than job factors for incurring these types of problems.”

It’s possible that controlling blood pressure and other heart risk factors could alleviate shoulder discomfort, too, Dr Hegmann concluded.