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.
Capsule of Glenohumeral Joint
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
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
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
Problems may be:
- Pain and swelling around the shoulder
- Redness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulder
- Problems moving the shoulder and pain with movement
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 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.
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
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