The Most Common Shoulder Injuries In Athletes – Signs, Treatments, Preventions & More

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common concerns among athletes. According to the NCBI, 232 258 shoulder injuries occurred nationwide during sports time. The most common sports associated with shoulder injuries were football, cycling, skiing, and martial arts, but varied with age and gender.

When athletes compete, shoulder injuries occur more often than during practice sessions. As a shoulder can be bent, bruised, and dislocated during such activities, athletes try their best to avoid such situations. However, there’s more to consider- here we will discuss some of the most common shoulder injuries in sports so you can get a complete understanding & prevent unfortunate outcomes. Let’s delve in!

The Anatomy of Shoulder:

For athletes, understanding the anatomy of the shoulder is crucial, since it helps them understand how vulnerable the joint is to specific injuries. To reduce the risk of shoulder injuries during sports activities, athletes need to understand the shoulder structure and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
Important Parts of Shoulder:
● Scapula: the shoulder blade.
● Clavicle: the collarbone.
● Humerus: the upper arm bone
● Rotator Cuff – Contributes to arm movement such as throwing.
● Labrum – Deepens the socket of the shoulder and gives it stability.
● Glenohumeral Joint- Support the front, back, and bottom of the shoulder joint.
● Acromioclavicular AC Joint – The joint where the clavicle meets the shoulder.

Spotlight on Shoulder Structure:
● The shoulder is surrounded by a group of muscles and tendons called the rotator cuff.
● The rotator cuff muscle includes supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscles.
● The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, allowing for a wide range of motion in multiple directions.
● The shoulder consists of three bones: the humerus, scapula, and clavicle.
● The clavicle and scapula make up the shoulder girdle. The only bony connection between the trunk and the upper limb is the clavicle.
● The ball of the shoulder joint is formed by the end of the humerus. This glenoid cavity forms the socket in which the head of the humerus sits.

Important Shoulder Functions:
● Greater freedom of movement
● Force transmission
● Heavy involvement in overhead activities
● Arm elevation
● Load bearing

The Minor and Major Sport-related Shoulder Injury:

These are a few of the most common shoulder injuries found in athletes. We have classified the injuries into minor and major stages to help you understand the varying severity of shoulder injuries.

Minor Shoulder Injuries in Sports:

Shoulder Sprain ( Ligament Damage)

Ligaments connect the bones of the skeleton and are flexible enough to take some stretching without damage. However, when the arm bone is pulled hard but not hard enough to dislocate, it results in a shoulder sprain. The symptoms will depend on the severity but are often considered in a minor category.
Signs- Pain at the front of the joint, tenderness in the injured area, muscle spasms, and shoulder instability.
Treatment- Rest the sprained muscles, put an icepack on the shoulder for 10-15 minutes, anti-inflammatory medications, etc.

Shoulder Strain (Muscular Damage)

Shoulder strain is one of the common shoulder injuries. This type of injury is triggered by activities including overuse and overstretching of shoulder muscles as well as lifting heavy weights. It is minor but it can be turned into the most serious type of strain – bicep pulley lesion when overlooked. Hence make sure to reach out to a physician if symptoms get worse.
Signs- Sharp pain in the shoulder region, difficulty in shoulder moving, muscle weakness, bruising, swelling, and inflammation.
Treatment- Take possible rest, apply ice packs, and compression technique, keep the shoulder elevated, and get your hands on over-the-counter painkillers.

Muscular Imbalances

Muscular imbalances are widely experienced by swimmers, over 60% of swimmers have been dealt with once in their journey. This condition usually arises from repeated, forceful overhand motions that throw the body’s normal musculature out of balance.
Signs- Poor posture, weak core muscles, joint pain, and limited mobility.
Treatment- Practicing conditioned exercises followed by skilled trainer, shockwave therapy, Massage therapy, correct the body’s alignment, etc.

Major Shoulder Injuries in Sports:

Bone Fractures

Bones are extremely strong and can handle a dramatic amount of trauma. Additionally, cracks and breaks in the scapula or shoulder bone are seen rarely. The main aim of flexible tissues surrounding the shoulder joint is to protect the bone from breakage, prone to sprain and strain. However, in case of forceful crashes or high-velocity falling accidents, the tissues failed to do their job. Due to the complexify positions of the bones, shoulder fractures are tricky to treat; taking longer time to recover around six to twelve weeks based on severity.
Signs- Tenderness, redness, feels like shoulder slipping out from the socket, pain while touching, swelling, and bruising.
Treatment- Rest in a comfortable position, painkiller medicines, ice compression, pain-relief spray, surgery to fix the bone, etc.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is well-known for providing exceptional shoulder mobility. Rotator cuff injuries are common among swimmers, tennis players, volleyball players, baseball pitchers, and athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive overhand motions, putting the rotator cuff at risk. There are two main types of rotator cuff injuries – rotator cuff tear & strain.
Signs- Muscle weakness, limited movability, grafting or cracking sound while moving the shoulder, and pain when moving the arm.
Treatment- Take Rest, attend a pain management program, nonsteroidal anti-inflammation medicines, and surgeries in severe cases.

Dislocated Shoulder

Shoulder dislocation occurs when the ligaments and muscles fail to keep the humeral head connected to the shoulder joint. Body movements that pull or push can dislodge the arm from the shoulder joint. This injury can be uncomfortable for some or cause sharp, sudden pain to others.
Signs- Extreme pain, shoulder joint weakness, swelling, numbness, and muscle spasms.
Treatment- Rest, cold & heat compression technique, physical therapy, closed reduction, and using a sling or brace.

SLAP tear

Superior Labral Antero-Posterior (SLAP) tears are rips in the cartilage ring that surrounds the shoulder socket (labrum). SLAP tears, like rotator cuff injuries, are more likely in sports that include a lot of overhead throwing, hard pulling, and tackling. Furthermore, medical specialists classify SLAP tears into Types I through VII, each with its own level of severity and treatment choices.
Sign- Reduction in shoulder strength, feels like shoulder dislocation, difficulty in doing daily life tasks, and sensations such as locking, popping, etc.
Treatment- Pain medications, physical therapy, rehabilitation, removal of the “bucket-handle” segment, and surgery if required.

The Preventive Steps to Lower the Risk of Shoulder Injuries:

The following are some preventive measures every athlete should follow to avoid such sports-related shoulder injuries. Let’s have a quick look!
● Warmup and stretching
● Muscle strengthening exercises
● Be mindful of your posture and body mechanics
● Wear protective gear
● Maintain overall fitness
● Follow a healthy diet plan
● Ensure proper healing of previous injury

Last Verdict:

If you’re one of those athletes who suffer from such common shoulder injuries. The best way to diagnose and treat sports injuries is to consult a healthcare professional. By intervening early and managing well, you can maximize recovery and prevent long-term complications. In addition, it’s important to note that the severity and treatment of these injuries can differ by individual. Stay updated with Osteocare Connect to get connected with the arthroscopy world!

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