Understanding shoulder injuries

shoulder painShoulder injuries can happen to anyone, not just athletes. Whether you're washing your car, fixing something in your house or playing catch with your children, you can hurt your shoulder. Understanding the different kinds of shoulder injuries and knowing the symptoms can help you prevent serious shoulder trouble.

How your shoulder works
Your shoulder is made up of three bones: the collarbone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus). Although your shoulder is the most movable joint in your body, it can be susceptible to injury as the ball of the upper arm bone is larger than the shoulder socket that holds it. According to the National Institutes of Health, common shoulder injuries include:

Treating a shoulder injury right away is important to preventing long-term shoulder problems, such as arthritis. Many shoulder injuries are caused by the breakdown of soft tissues. Using the shoulder too much can cause the tissue to break down faster as people get older, hence why athletes and people who perform manual labor regularly have an increased risk of shoulder injuries.

Recognizing injuries
Shoulder injuries can affect nearly everyone—men, women and children. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases lists numerous symptoms that may indicate a shoulder injury, including:

  • bruising or swelling
  • loss of range of motion
  • pain and tenderness in your shoulder, especially when reaching overhead, reaching behind your back, lifting, pulling or sleeping on the shoulder
  • shoulder weakness

Certain injuries, such as dislocation, can result in complete immobility of the shoulder.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see an orthopedic specialist right away. Common treatments for shoulder injuries include rest, icing the shoulder three to four times a day, wearing a sling to keep the shoulder in place and exercising to improve range of motion and strengthen muscles.

Some injuries, such as a severe rotator cuff tear, may require surgery. Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and take X-rays to determine the proper treatment for your injury.