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.
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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 symptoms and health history. Questions will also be asked about the injury. 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
- Shoulder separation. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/shoulder-separation.
- Sports injuries. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sports-injuries.
- Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/topical-nsaids.
- Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
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