The 5 Most Common Shoulder Injuries



All blogs reviewed by Physicians for accuracy.

Shoulder injuries can result from a multitude of factors, from acute trauma to overuse or age-related degeneration. Here, we explore the five most common shoulder injuries, their typical causes, and effective treatment strategies. 

  1. Rotator Cuff Tear 

Rotator cuff tears are common among individuals who repeatedly perform overhead motions, such as athletes or manual laborers, or sometimes from a fall. The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles and tendons that stabilize and move the shoulder joint. When these structures are torn, it can cause a persistent dull ache or weakness in the shoulder, which often worsens when using the arm away from the body. Treatment can range from physical therapy and pain management strategies, to surgical intervention in severe cases.

  1. Shoulder Impingement

This condition occurs when the top of the shoulder blade (acromion) exerts pressure on the underlying soft tissues when the arm is lifted. This pressure, or “impingement,” on the rotator cuff tendons and bursa can lead to bursitis and tendinitis. Typical treatment includes rest, physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and in some cases, corticosteroid injections or surgery.

  1. Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder, characterized by pain and stiffness, typically develops gradually and can persist for up to two to three years. It can occur spontaneously or after a period of immobilization due to surgery, fracture, or other injury. Physical therapy can sometimes help, but a corticosteroid injection is often more effective. 

  1. Shoulder Instability

Often the result of an injury or overuse, shoulder instability occurs when the head of the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket. Instabiliyt in its worse form can result in dislocation and, if recurrent, can cause long term damage to the shoulder joint that may not be reversible. Treatment may include physiotherapy to strengthen the shoulder muscles or surgical intervention in severe or recurrent cases–especially in younger patients.

  1. SLAP Tear

SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) tears are injuries to the ring of cartilage (labrum) that surrounds the shoulder socket. This can occur from acute trauma, like a fall, or repetitive shoulder motion, particularly overhead activities such as pitching, tennis, and volleyball. Depending on the severity of the tear, treatment may include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, or surgery.

Other Common Causes of Pain

In addition to these specific injuries, shoulder pain can also be caused by various other conditions. For instance, arthritis is a common cause of shoulder pain, particularly among older adults. This degenerative condition leads to the wearing away of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in your joints, causing pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis (following an injury) are the most common types affecting the shoulder. Treatment typically includes a combination of physical therapy, medications, lifestyle modifications, and potentially joint replacement surgery.

Regardless of the cause, persistent shoulder pain is a signal that you should seek medical attention. At Boston Orthopaedics and Spine, our team of specialists, including Dr. Burke, Dr. Karlson, Dr. Ross, and Dr. Schena, are experts in diagnosing and treating a wide range of shoulder conditions. Early intervention is key in managing shoulder pain and preventing further complications, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re experiencing discomfort.

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