Warning Signs of a Shoulder Injury

Sports woman massaging shoulder pain isolated on white background

Common Shoulder Injuries

Most problems in the shoulder involve the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, rather than the bones. Athletes are especially susceptible to shoulder problems. In athletes, shoulder problems can develop slowly through repetitive, intensive training routines.

Some people will have a tendency to ignore the pain and "play through" a shoulder injury, which only aggravates the condition, and may possibly cause more problems. People also may underestimate the extent of their injury because steady pain, weakness in the arm, or limitation of joint motion will become almost second nature to them.

These are three common shoulder injuries caused by sports participation:

1. SLAP tear

This is a tear to the ring of cartilage (labrum) that surrounds your shoulder's socket. A SLAP tear tends to develop over time from repetitive, overhead motions, such as throwing a baseball, playing tennis or volleyball, or swimming.

2. Shoulder instability

It’s common to experience shoulder instability if you’re an athlete. This injury can occur if you’re participating in contact sports, including football or hockey, or ones that require repetitive movements, like baseball.

Shoulder instability happens when your ligaments, muscles, and tendons no longer secure your shoulder joint. As a result, the round, top part of your upper arm bone (humeral head) dislocates (the bone pops out of the shoulder socket completely), or subluxates (the bone partially comes out of the socket).

Dislocation is characterized by severe, sudden onset of pain; subluxation (partial dislocation) may be accompanied by short bursts of pain. Other symptoms include arm weakness and lack of movement. Swelling and bruising on your arm are visible changes you may also notice.

graphical representation of shoulder injury

3. Rotator cuff injury

This is another injury commonly seen in athletes participating in repetitive, overhead sports, including swimming and tennis. Rotator cuff injuries are typically characterized by weakness in the shoulder, reduced range of motion, and stiffness.

Rotator cuff injuries are also painful. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pain at night is common; you may not be able to sleep comfortably on the side of your injured shoulder.
  • Pain may be experienced with certain movements, especially overhead movements.
  • Pain in your shoulder or arm may also occur.

Similar to a SLAP tear, people with rotator cuff injuries often experience achy shoulder pain.

Being aware of these injuries and knowing their symptoms may encourage you to seek medical treatment sooner; early treatment intervention could result in a better outcome and earlier return to sports.

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