The Ixodes tick is blamed for the spread of Lyme disease, which is the most common vector-borne infection in the U.S. If diagnosed early, Lyme is usually cured with antibiotics. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they have been bitten by a tick and neglect to seek treatment.
Lyme arthritis, which may cause shoulder pain, is the most common problem associated with stage three or chronic Lyme disease. Early detection and simple preventive measures may help reduce the incidence of Lyme and avoid the shoulder pain associated with chronic Lyme disease.
Infection and Stages of Lyme
The Ixodes tick is the carrier of many organisms known as spirochetes. The spirochete that transmits Lyme is called Borellia burgdorferi. The tick must remain attached to the skin for approximately 24 hours to pass on the spirochete.
Stage one, or early localized disease, last from days to weeks. Symptoms may include a rash with a pale center with a bright red ring around it at the site of the tick bite. The rash is usually accompanied by fever, headache and fatigue. Approximately 20 percent of those diagnosed with Lyme do not show the characteristic rash.
Stage two, or early disseminated disease, occurs weeks to months after the initial tick bite. Additional symptoms may include neck pain, conjunctivitis and swollen lymph nodes.
Stage three, or persistent infection occurs within months to years after the initial tick bite. At this time, there may be heart problems such as Lyme carditis, memory impairment and joint pain. The shoulder pain associated with chronic Lyme is called Lyme arthritis.
Sore Shoulders with Lyme
“Approximately sixty percent of those people with untreated Lyme disease will develop arthritis,” writes Dr. Allen C. Steere, who has published numerous articles on Lyme disease. This pain can last for months. People with Lyme arthritis have episodes of joint swelling and pain mainly in the large joints, including shoulders. Painful episodes are usually brief and followed by periods of remission.
Treatment for Sore Shoulders
Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover completely. Doctors commonly prescribe antibiotics such as doxycycline when Lyme is diagnosed. Sore shoulders brought on by chronic Lyme arthritis may also respond to over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol. Another group of drugs used to treat arthritis is called NSAIDs. This group includes aspirin and ibuprofen. Both target pain and inflammation. Consult with your doctor before taking any medications.
Protective clothing in woody areas is important.Even the immature forms of the Ixodes tick called the larva and the nymph can transmit the spirochete into your skin by their bite and they are difficult to detect because of their small size. Other preventive measures include avoiding tick infested areas, use of insect repellents and frequently checking yourself and your pets for ticks.
- “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 17th ed.” Anthony S. Fauci et al.; 2008
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Lyme disease; Treatment; Updated April 2011
- The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center; Lyme Disease Clinical Presentation; Brian Schwartz, M.D., M.S
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Lyme Disease; Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome; Updated August 2011
- "Clinical Infectious Diseases"; The Clinical Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Lyme Disease, Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis: Clinical Practice Guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America ; Gary P. Wormser, et al.; August 2006
- "Arthritis Today"; Drug Guide; Analgesics
- "Arthritis Today"; Drug Guide: NSAIDs