Shoulder Sprain

A shoulder sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that stabilize the shoulder. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other.

  • Causes

    Shoulder sprains may be caused by:

    • Falling on an outstretched arm
    • Forced twisting of the arm
    • A blow to the shoulder
    • Overuse or repetitive movement of the shoulder joint

  • Definition

    A shoulder sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that stabilize the shoulder. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other.

    Capsule of Glenohumeral Joint
    Shoulder Joint Capsule
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured your shoulder. The doctor will examine your shoulder to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.

    Tests may include:

    • X-rays
    • MRI
    • Arthrogram

    Shoulder sprains are graded according to their severity:

    • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue.
    • Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissue.
    • Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue.

  • Prevention

    Shoulder sprains may not always be preventable. There are steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting a shoulder sprain. These include:

    • Wearing protective equipment and using proper technique while playing sports.
    • Keep shoulders, back, and chest strong with regular exercises to absorb the energy of sudden physical stress

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk of a shoulder sprain include:

    • Playing sports, such as swimming, volleyball, baseball, gymnastics, and tennis

    • Occupations that involve:

      • Repetitive shoulder movements, including heavy lifting
      • Lifting at or above the height of your shoulder
      • Vibration of the shoulder
      • Irregular posture or movements
    • Poor coordination
    • Poor balance
    • Inadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
    • Loose joints or connective tissue disorders

  • Symptoms

    Shoulder sprain may cause:

    • Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the shoulder
    • Redness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulder
    • Limited ability to move the shoulder and increased pain with movement

  • Treatment

    Treatment includes:

    • Brace or sling—You may need to wear a brace to keep your shoulder still as it heals. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
    • Rehabilitation exercises—Begin exercises to restore flexibility, range of motion, and strength in your shoulder as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist.
    • Surgery—Surgery is rarely needed to repair a mild shoulder sprain without instability or dysfunction. However, in athletes earlier surgery may be considered to avoid recurrent injury.