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Shoulder Sprain

Definition

A shoulder sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support the shoulder. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other.

Causes

A shoulder sprain is caused by trauma. The most common way this happens is by:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Forced twisting of the arm
  • A blow to the shoulder
  • Overuse or repetitive movement of the shoulder

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Certain sports, such as swimming, volleyball, baseball, gymnastics, and tennis
  • Jobs that involve:
    • Repetitive shoulder movements, such as heavy lifting
    • Lifting at or above the height of the shoulder
    • Vibration of the shoulder
    • Unusual posture or movements
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Lack of flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
  • Loose joints or connective tissue problems

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Pain and swelling around the shoulder
  • Redness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulder
  • Problems moving the shoulder and pain with movement

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how you hurt your shoulder. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shoulder.

It can be hard to tell a shoulder sprain from a fracture or dislocation. Pictures of the shoulder may be taken. This can be done with:

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the joint involved and how much it is injured. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as rest and ice
  • Medicines, such as over the counter and prescription pain relievers
  • A brace or sling to keep the shoulder still as it heals
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder and improve movement

Some people may need surgery to repair a ligament that is torn.

Prevention

The risk of a shoulder sprain may be lowered by:

  • Using the right safety gear and techniques when playing sports
  • Stretching and strengthening the ligaments that support the shoulder
RESOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

REFERENCES:

Derry S, Moore RA, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.

Shoulder problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Shoulder_Problems/default.asp. Accessed October 12, 2020.

Shoulder separation. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00033. Accessed October 12, 2020.

Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/topical-nsaids. Accessed October 12, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT  Last Updated: 6/4/2021