Read below about shoulder injury, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your shoulder injury from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Shoulder Injury Symptoms

The shoulder is a very mobile and flexible joint, but it is also complex and therefore vulnerable to injury. The system of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that make up the shoulder actually has a rather poor blood supply, which makes any injury difficult to heal. The demands of modern sports and work can place enormous stress on the shoulder joints. It's the rare person who has not had some form of shoulder difficulty at some point in life.

Characteristics:

  • Stiffness and weakness in your shoulder. You may find it painful and difficult to move your shoulder through normal positions.
  • Your shoulder may pop or snap when you try to move it.
  • You have the sensation that your shoulder keeps moving out of place.
  • There is pain on movement, especially if when raising your arm above your head.
  • Weakness in the arm.

Duration:

  • An _ acute _ shoulder injury happens suddenly. You might make one last throw of the baseball, or one last effort to swing the ax, and feel an immediate pain, tear, or dislocation.
  • A _ chronic _ injury begins with mild symptoms and gradually gets worse. You might adjust to it, and work around it, until finally it is just too painful to tolerate. However, an acute shoulder injury can become chronic and debilitating if not treated right away and proper rehabilitation is not done.

Who is most often affected by shoulder injury symptoms?

  • Athletes, even those who are young or who play just for fun.
  • Older people, even if not playing sports or doing hard physical work.

When are shoulder injury symptoms most likely to occur?

  • Playing tennis.

  • Pitching a baseball.

  • Swimming.

  • Lifting weights.

  • Lifting and moving any heavy objects.

  • Washing walls or windows.

  • Swinging an ax or using a hoe.

  • With any other motion that involves repeated overhead motion of the arm.

Is a shoulder injury serious?

  • A relatively mild "overuse" strain can be easily treated, usually at home.
  • A more severe strain that interferes with activities of daily living should be seen by a medical provider.
  • A dislocation or fracture should be treated as a medical emergency, since permanent damage can result if it is not treated.

Shoulder Injury Causes Overview

Many conditions can have shoulder pain as a symptom. The most common are overuse injuries, especially from playing sports or doing physical work. Falling on an outstretched arm is another very common cause of shoulder injury.

The most common shoulder injury cause type is overuse, that is a sudden increase in activity that you're not used to or too much long-term, repetitive work:

  • Inflammation and pain of the shoulder muscles, especially when making an overhead throwing motion.
  • Strain or the overstretching of muscles and/or tendons.
  • Sprain or overstretching of ligaments.
  • Strain of the rotator cuff, which forms the support structure holding the shoulder joint in place.
  • Bursitis, which is inflammation of the bursa – the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints.
  • Arthritis or wearing down the protective cartilage over the bones.

The less common shoulder injury cause types:

  • Falls, especially if you land on your outstretched arm in an effort to catch yourself.
  • Direct impact, such as being hit with a baseball or other object.
  • Shoulder separation, which is tearing of the ligaments holding the collarbone to the shoulder blade.
  • Impingement, which occurs when swollen, inflamed muscles begin "catching" and rubbing against the shoulder blade.
  • Dislocation, which results from severe strain or sprain due to loss of support for the shoulder joint.
  • Fracture of the collarbone, which can cause shoulder pain along with swelling and deformity over the site of the fracture.
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis, a degenerative condition that can follow acute strain of the rotator cuff tendons.
  • Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, occurs when scar tissue from a previous injury causes an almost immoveable stiffness in the shoulder joint.

Rare & unusual should injury cause types:

  • Abscess, or pocket of infection, somewhere within the shoulder.
  • Tumor within the shoulder.

3 Potential Shoulder Injury Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Shoulder Bruise

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the shoulder are common, given how exposed this area of the body is.

    Bruises begin to heal within one week.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder injury, swelling of one shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with shoulder bruise:
    shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder injury, constant shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Shoulder Injury Checker

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  2. 2.Cellulitis

    Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissues underneath it. It is most commonly caused by Group A strep and typically enters the body through a break in the skin.

    Dependent on severity of infection

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, shoulder pain, shoulder injury, shoulder redness, painful shoulder swelling
    Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis:
    shoulder redness, area of skin redness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Dislocated Shoulder

    The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of the arm bone fits into the groove in the shoulder blade. A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket.

    3-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation, shoulder injury, shoulder popping
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocated shoulder:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation, constant shoulder pain
    Symptoms that never occur with dislocated shoulder:
    mild shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Shoulder Injury Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate shoulder injury treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You suspect you have a dislocated or a separated shoulder. There will be pain along with a bulging, abnormal appearance around the shoulder joint at the top of the arm.
  • A broken collarbone will have similar symptoms and should also be seen right away.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving your shoulder, especially if you continue your activities and find yourself compensating for – trying to work around – the pain.
  • Severe pain that becomes constant and unrelenting even when you are not using the shoulder.
  • Chronic shoulder pain that never seems to heal or improve. You can be referred to a physical therapist for exercises and other treatment that can be very helpful.

Shoulder injury remedies that you can try at home:

  • Rest, with the intermittent use of icepacks.
  • You can temporarily use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, to ease pain and inflammation.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises will build up the muscles in the shoulders and maintain flexibility in the tendons and ligaments.

FAQs About Shoulder Injury

Here are some frequently asked questions about shoulder injury.

How do you know if you have a torn rotator cuff?

The two most common signs of a torn rotator cuff are pain and weakness. Pain usually develops on the outside of the shoulder and is worse when lifting the arms or any item overhead. Additionally, the pain is usually worse at night. However, a large proportion of rotator cuff injuries can be asymptomatic.

How long does it take to recover from a shoulder injury?

This depends on the type of shoulder injury. Traumatic injuries can often be more severe than non-traumatic injuries, and injuries in different location may take more time to heal. A rotator cuff injury, for example, may take as long as six weeks to heal following an operation. A shoulder separation can take months to heal and a shoulder sprain can heal in three weeks. These time frames are general guidelines and can vary from individual to individual.

What does a torn ligament in the shoulder feel like?

A torn ligament is usually accompanied with sharp pain at the time of the ligament tear as well as swelling, inflammation, and sharp pain on movement following the tear. Additionally, a torn ligament may also cause difficulty moving the shoulder or lifting the shoulder. If you have severe pain and immobility of the shoulder, seek medical evaluation and treatment.

Is my shoulder bruised or broken?

A shoulder bruise occurs when blood vessels in the soft tissue (skin, muscle, connective tissue) of the arm are torn and bleed into the arm causing discoloration. Usually these areas are mildly to moderately tender, but not extremely painful. A fracture occurs when a bone breaks due to trauma and is often severely painful. Bruises do not severely limit motion, while breaks may limit motion and deform the arm or shoulder. If you suspect a break / fracture you should seek medical attention.

Why does my shoulder hurt when I lift my arm?

Pain upon lifting an arm is a common sign of a rotator cuff injury. Other common cause include muscle strain, a pinched nerve, or a shoulder dislocation. When an individual lifts his or her arm, he or she is often engaging one of the four muscles that form the deltoid muscle group. Injury to this muscle or surrounding structures can contribute to shoulder injury.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Shoulder Injury

  • Q.About your [shoulder], do you notice any of the following?
  • Q.Is the shoulder pain affecting:
  • Q.Did you feel your shoulder pop out of place?
  • Q.Can you fully move your shoulders around?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our shoulder injury symptom checker to find out more.

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Shoulder Injury Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced shoulder injury have also experienced:

    • 16% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 10% Shoulder Pain
    • 3% Pain in One Arm
  • People who have experienced shoulder injury were most often matched with:

    • 34% Shoulder Bruise
    • 2% Dislocated Shoulder
    • 1% Cellulitis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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