Shoulder injuries can affect anyone. An injury might be the result of wear and tear, lifting a heavy object, playing a favorite sport or a fall. The range of motion and flexibility that shoulders provide to the arms also make these joints more vulnerable to injury.

What are common shoulder injuries?

  • Arthritis
    Wear and tear can cause the protective surfaces in a shoulder joint to wear down, allowing the bones to rub together causing pain and inflammation, or arthritis. Pain is moderate to severe.
  • Broken shoulder
    A broken shoulder often is classified as a fracture of the top of the upper arm bone (humerus). Pain is moderate to severe.
  • Bursitis and tendonitis
    Bursitis occurs when the fluid-filled sac (bursa) that cushions the shoulder joint becomes inflamed. Tendonitis is an inflamed tendon. Pain is moderate to severe.
  • Clavicle fracture
    This is the fracture of the collar bone (clavicle). Pain is severe.
  • Dislocation
    A dislocation is when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) becomes dislodged from the shoulder socket. Pain is severe, and movement becomes impaired.
  • Rotator cuff tear
    The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons. Wear and tear can create weak areas susceptible to being torn. Pain is moderate to severe.
  • Sprains and separations
    A sprain occurs when the ligaments in the shoulder are torn. A separation is when the top of the shoulder blade (acromion) becomes separated from the collar bone (clavicle). Pain is moderate to severe.

How does my docotor diagnose a shoulder injury?

In addition to a physical examination, a physician might order any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • X-ray
    Invisible electromagnetic energy beams are used to produce images of internal tissue, bones and organs onto film.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
    A non-invasive procedure that uses large magnets to produce detailed images of organs, bones and tissues within the body.
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT)
    A non-invasive test that produces cross-sections of the body through the use of computer technology and x-rays.
  • Arthrograms 
    Before being x-rayed, a special dye is injected at the injury site to outline soft tissues.
  • Arthroscopy
    A minimally-invasive procedure that allows the orthopedic physician to diagnose and treat problem areas using a high-resolution camera called an arthroscope through a small incision.

What questions should I ask my doctor

  • What will my treatment include?
  • Are you board certified? Click here [link: Physician Directory] to search for a doctor in our online physician directory.
  • When will I be able to resume day-to-day activities?
  • How often will I need to follow-up with my orthopedic surgeon?

What are the treatments for shoulder injuries?

The goal is to control the pain, promote healing and to prevent complications. Surgery is not uncommon but is not always needed. Rest, ice, heat, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the first line of defense. A physician will take into consideration a patient’s age, overall health, medical history, and the extent of his or her condition before choosing a treatment plan.

Patients should follow-up with their orthopedic physician so he or she can monitor progress.

Orthopedic Q&A

Recently, HouseCall, St. Clair Hospital’s consumer-oriented newsletter, consulted with Dr. Patrick McMahon regarding shoulder and elbow injuries in youth pitchers. Click here to read the conversation.(PDF)

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Mayo Clinic Health Information

Learn more about Shoulder Surgery from our Mayo Clinic Health Information section