Shoulder injuries are common among contact sport athletes, as well as athletes that consistently use their shoulders to compete - swimmers, tennis players, baseball players and track and field throwers. Shoulder injuries are hard to play through and often develop overtime.
As a pivotal set of muscles and tendons in the body, it is paramount to maintain shoulder health to ensure a successful and sustained sports career. As a result, athletes should pay close attention to proper preventative measures and always be patient during recovery to ensure full strength and range of motion is retained.
Common Shoulder Injuries
Swimmers, throwers and tennis players are the most common athletes to develop shoulder injuries. With so much repetitive shoulder use required for competition, the tissues within the shoulder can wear down or tear.
- Osteoarthritis - AKA wear and tear arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs with years of excessive use. As the cartilage in the shoulder wears down, bones start to rub together, creating pain and inflammation.
- Fractures - Fractures or broken bones occur from falls or trauma. Fractures in the collarbone, upper forearm and shoulder blade can impact shoulder function.
- Torn rotator cuff - This occurs when the ligaments that attach the rotator cuff tear partially or fully separate from the humerus.
- Tendinitis - This injury is more commonly referred to by the sport in which the athlete that was injured, for example swimmer's shoulder and pitcher's shoulder. This occurs through overuse and is diagnosed as severe swelling of a tendon.
- Separation - This often happens from a fall directly on the shoulder, and the ligaments connecting the collarbone to the shoulder tear.
- Dislocation - A dislocation occurs when bones become misaligned.
- Strains - When muscles or tendons stretch or tear, it may be referred to as a strain.
- Sprains - A shoulder separation may also be referred to as a sprain.
Preventing Sports Related Shoulder Injuries
Many shoulder injuries occur slowly over the course of a workout, game or season. Therefore, by listening to your body, you can often avoid shoulder injuries. If your shoulders aren't comfortable throwing or swinging, it either means that it's time to stop for the day or you need to work on your flexibility. By following these tips, you have the best chance of avoiding shoulder injuries as an athlete.
Build strength and mobility - Enduring a full tennis match or baseball game requires muscle strength and endurance. Shoulder flexibility will also help avoid injuries during practices and games. Prepare your shoulder for all of the motions and movements it will undergo throughout the season with plenty of workouts and exercises.
Warm up before use - Muscles need time to acclimate to the explosive motions involved in sports. Start slow and work your shoulders up to full-speed rotations.
Avoid overuse - Whether you're training or pitching in a big game, limiting your "pitch count" literally or figuratively will protect your shoulders. Overuse can lead to slower injuries such as arthritis, tendinitis or bursitis, or weaken the shoulder to leave it more susceptible to tears and fractures. Listen to your body and understand that one more rep or one more inning is not as meaningful as keeping your body healthy and avoiding shoulder injuries.
Develop proper technique - Athletes, especially throwers, are subjected to repetitive movements. If there is any kink in the motion, the shoulder will more quickly wear down. Keep your movements smooth to avoid extra wear and tear on your shoulders.
Play smart - Staying attentive while you're in the game will prevent costly collisions that can lead to impact injuries or painful falls. Play alert to avoid unnecessary contact and always try to roll through your falls to avoid limbs or shoulders from absorbing the full impact of a fall.
Treating Shoulder Injuries
If you notice a sharp pain in your shoulder following a fall, hit or throw or you experience shoulder stiffness and loss of flexibility, see your PCP, local sports medicine specialist, orthopedist or chiropractor for a physical examination and, if needed, scans.
Depending on the type and severity of your shoulder injury, a combination of pain medications, anti-inflammatories, physical manipulations and stabilizers may be used to improve your comfort and shoulder function.
Pain medications may be prescribed or purchased over the counter.
Inflammation can be controlled by the patient through diet changes or by regularly icing the injured area. Medications or injections can also help reduce swelling and inflammation.
A brace and/or sling can help protect and immobilize the shoulder to prevent further setbacks.
Surgery may be required for more severe shoulder injuries to help reconnect torn or separated tissue.
Consider the severity of your injury to decide whether to work with local chiropractors, sports medicine specialists, physical therapists or orthopedic surgeons.