Common Shoulder Injuries (and What You Need To Know to Prevent Them)

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

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1 Common Shoulder Injuries (and What You Need To Know to Prevent Them)

Shoulder injuries are more common than most realise, affecting athletes, office workers, and the elderly alike. This comprehensive guide explores the most prevalent shoulder injuries, their causes, symptoms, and effective prevention strategies. Stay informed and protect your mobility by understanding the essentials of shoulder health.

Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries

If you have a shoulder injury, it may manifest in the form of shoulder pain and other symptoms as discussed below:

  • Mild to intense shoulder pain in the joint that may radiate towards the neck or arm.
  • Shoulder pain with movement of the arms.
  • Swelling in the shoulder.
  • Tenderness and pain when pressing the area of injury
  • In certain cases, the shoulder joint may become unstable causing it to dislocate.
  • Restricted movement of the arm with pain while trying to move it in certain directions. For some movements especially while reaching the arm behind the back, the shoulder may become frozen and unable to move.
  • Tingling sensation in the affected arm.
  • Stiffness of the shoulder and muscle weakness.

Common Shoulder Injuries and Conditions

There could be several shoulder injuries that may be contributing to your pain. These include:

Arthritis

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is arthritis. Three main types of arthritis affect the shoulder:

  • Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear with age and affects the protective cartilage of the shoulder joint.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and damage to the shoulder joint.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis is caused after an injury to the shoulder and results in further degeneration and aggravation of the trauma.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis is the inflammation and irritation of the shoulder tendons that is usually caused by indulging in strenuous activities and movement of the shoulder joints. It can manifest as acute shoulder pain or the pain may build over time to become chronic.

Bursitis

The bones, muscles, and tendons in the shoulder joint are cushioned around by a soft tissue called the bursa. The bursa allows the muscles and tendons to glide smoothly with each other when the joint is moved. When the bursa is inflamed because of tendonitis or some other trauma, it can cause severe shoulder pain when the muscles and tendons try to glide over each other.

Sprains

The most common cause of shoulder pain is a sprain which is primarily an injury to the rotator cuff muscle or surrounding ligaments of the shoulder joint. A shoulder sprain may be minor caused by overstretching of the muscle or ligament or it may be severe when the ligament is torn. A minor shoulder sprain may cause mild discomfort and ache whereas a severe sprain can cause intense pain and weakness. Such a severe sprain needs to be diagnosed by a qualified doctor who may order an MRI to see the extent of the injury and advise treatment accordingly.

Shoulder impingement

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When the muscles and tendons in the shoulder joint move and glide smoothly over each other, the shoulder moves around normally. If, however, any of these tendons and muscles are impinged because of any problem, it can result in sharp, intense pain in the joint as well as restriction of movement. The most common cause of such impingements is bone spurs that narrow the path for smooth gliding of the tendons. The tendon injuries can then become inflamed and may even tear due to increased inflammation and overstretching.

To manage shoulder impingement, the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method can be a good approach to reduce swelling and inflammation. Shoulder stretching exercises are good options when you are experiencing musculoskeletal issues. Any anti-inflammatory medications can be consumed if the pain is moderate to severe and must be prescribed by a doctor.

Shoulder Girdle Syndrome

Shoulder girdle syndrome is one of the rare causes of shoulder pain where the nerves that travel from the spine to the neck and then to the arms get inflamed and damaged as a result of an unknown underlying cause. This leads to muscle weakness in the shoulder, arms, and hands and manifests as severe pain in the shoulder and upper arm. Only a qualified orthopaedic specialist or doctor in Singapore can diagnose this syndrome since the symptoms are often confused with cervical radiculopathy and require a completely different mode of treatment.

Dislocation

Shoulder dislocation is another common shoulder injury that can cause severe pain and swelling. A shoulder is dislocated when the upper arm bone called the humerus head slips out of the glenoid socket. This can cause severe pain and an inability to move your arm. This is an acute type of pain caused by accidents, falls, or other traumatic injuries to the shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder

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Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, happens when the shoulder joint capsule tightens and thickens gradually over time and results in a stiff shoulder with a limited range of motion. Gradually, the pain and motion restriction can aggravate, making daily activities difficult to perform. Here are some pain relief solutions for frozen shoulder that you can try at home:

  1. Posture and Ergonomics: Pay attention to your poster and ergonomics when you spend long hours on your computer or doing repetitive tasks.
  2. Supportive pillows: Use supportive pillows to support your arm and shoulder while sleeping to prevent discomfort.
  3. Massage: Massage may bring some relief for some patients. Consult a professional practitioner for these treatments.

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Even after surgery, a frozen shoulder can have a comeback. It is important to complete your rehab after surgery. Doing gentle exercises, stretching and using your shoulder more can prevent a frozen shoulder from reoccurring.

Fracture

Another cause of shoulder pain could be the result of a fracture of bones in the shoulder region including scapula, humerus, and clavicle. Fractures are usually common after an accident, fall, or direct trauma to the shoulder.

How Do I Know If My Shoulder Is Seriously Injured?

When it comes to injuries the first and most important thing to establish is the severity. If you’re feeling in serious pain and are questioning your injury, there are a few things to consider.

  • Is this pain intense?
  • Is your movement severely limited?
  • Is it swollen?
  • Did you hear or feel a popping sensation?
  • Do you have numbness or weakness in your arm or fingers?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s time to see a doctor. When it comes to your health, you’re better safe than sorry. No information online can replace the tools and experience that your doctor has.

When you’re feeling intense pain or can’t move your shoulder well, there’s a good chance that you have a tear. Strains and sprains are less common but possible. A sprain will be milder in terms of pain, swelling, and loss of movement. Meanwhile, a strain will give you severe pain, swelling, and loss of movement.

Shoulder injuries are common among athletes and active individuals, and can often result from sports injuries or overuse. Golfer’s elbow and Tennis elbow are other common injuries that can affect athletes, particularly those who play sports that involve repetitive gripping and forearm motions. In addition, athletes are also at risk for developing knee arthritis, a condition characterised by inflammation and pain in the knee joint. Knee pain treatment may involve a combination of medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes to manage symptoms and prevent further damage to the knee joint, such as torn meniscus or ACL tears. If you suspect you might have a knee injury, talk to our ACL tear specialist today for a diagnosis.

We also talk about whether it’s possible for ACL tears to heal on their own in this article.

How to Manage Shoulder Injuries

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  • Sleep position is key: Sleeping on the non-injured side of your shoulder or lying on your back can cause the injured shoulder to roll forward and cause pain. Placing a pillow behind the injured shoulder can reduce shoulder movement.
  • Cold and warm compresses: Ice packs help cool down inflammatory areas, while heat packs are used for muscle-related injuries.
  • Steroid injections: Although steroid injections can help with pain management, it is always advisable to find the root cause of the pain and treat it accordingly.

How Long Do Shoulder Injuries Take to Heal

In case of a minor shoulder sprain or injury, you can resume your normal activities within 2-3 weeks. However, there are certain moderate to severe shoulder sprains that may take 6-8 weeks to fully recover. In the case of arthroscopy or other types of shoulder surgeries, the recovery can take anywhere from 1-6 months depending on each individual case.

Do’s and Don’ts When You Have Shoulder Injuries

If you experience shoulder injuries, it is advisable to consult your doctor and get evaluated so that appropriate treatment can be started. Alongside, there are a few do’s and don’ts that can help reduce pain and inflammation and fasten the recovery process.

  • Rest your injured shoulder as much as possible.
  • Use an arm support or sling to provide relief to the shoulder joint.
  • Apply ice on the affected area.
  • Continue all your strengthening and mobility exercises as prescribed by your physiotherapist in Singapore.
  • Do not indulge in strenuous activities that may increase pain or inflammation in the shoulder.
  • Restrict your arm movements as much as possible.
  • Do not add any other exercise or stretches to your regimen without consulting your physiotherapist.

How You Can Reduce The Risk Of Shoulder Injuries

The risk of shoulder injury can be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and strengthening the shoulder muscles. Maintaining a proper posture is essential to promote healthy shoulder joints. Performing exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and scapular stabilisers can improve shoulder mobility and stability which can greatly help reduce the risk of a shoulder injury.

What Is A Good Exercise for a Shoulder Injury?

Having good shoulder mobility reduces the chances of a serious injury. When you have poor mobility, you will also lack strength, stability and coordination. Therefore, Chiropractors and Orthopaedic doctors recommend mobility exercises such as F45, HIIT, yoga and pilates. Be sure to do some stretches to prevent muscle cramps in the middle of your workout.

For effective injury exercises, we heard from Theresa Marko, doctor of physical therapy, and Chad Kuntz, sports physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach. They explained the importance of understanding when not to exercise with an injury.

If you are hurt, avoid the following exercises and their variations.

  • NO shoulder presses
  • NO incline chest presses
  • NO planks
  • NO downward dog
  • NO dips

Good exercises for injured shoulders include side-lying external rotation and side-lying shoulder clocks. For both workouts, remember to lie on the side that’s not hurting. Also, try not to put too much force on your wrists to avoid wrist injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

How to Do a Side-Lying External Rotation

How to Do a Side-Lying Shoulder Clock

How Long Can It Take for a Shoulder Injury to Heal?

When you’re healing from an injury, it’s critical to listen to your body. You can’t just mark a date on your calendar and then go back to your normal routine.

While a mild injury will clear up with a short period of rest, moderate to severe injuries require rehabilitation. A tear can take anywhere from one to six months to heal likewise a sprain or strain can take upwards of six months to get back to normal. You can consider the Ice and Heat therapy method to help manage your pain.

How Do You Rehab an Injured Shoulder?

When you have an injury, the doctor will give you a few common rehabilitation workouts. Let’s take a look at a couple of the most common rehab workouts.

Pendulum Exercise

Wand Exercises

Rotator Cuff Exercises

What Exercises Can I Do with a Torn Shoulder Tendon?

When you’re dealing with a rotator cuff tear, it’s vital to have a physical therapy plan. This is what enables you to get your full range of motion back. Here’s a look at exercises that help heal a torn tendon.

How to Do Pendulum Swings

Remember those pendulum swing workouts from earlier? These are an especially important part of your routine when you have a torn tendon but people often do them wrong. This can be painful and slow down your healing so let’s take a closer look at how to do pendulum swings.

  1. Stand next to a table, chair, or railing for stability
  2. Put your hand (on the side of your uninjured shoulder) on the stabilising object
  3. Lean forward slightly without rounding your back
  4. Let your arm on the injured side dangle freely
  5. Move your dangling arm back and forth. Repeat until it feels looser
  6. Start again from a dangling position and move your arm from side to side
  7. Start again by moving your arm in small circles. Start in a clockwise motion, then go counterclockwise

Using Resistance Bands to Strengthen Torn Tendon

One of the effective pieces of workout equipment you can invest in is a resistance band. They come in a variety of different styles and strengths, but often less is more. A simple inexpensive resistance band will help you strengthen a torn tendon injury and get back to your old self again.

How to Do Crossover Arm Stretch Exercises

How to Do a Standing Row

How to Do an Internal Rotation Exercise

Now that you know how to treat and what to look out for when you think you might have hurt your shoulder, it’s time to look forward. Learning the right exercises to prevent injuries and being aware of your risk factors is key to moving forward towards a healthy life.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, maintaining shoulder health is crucial for an active and healthy lifestyle. By recognising the signs of common injuries and implementing preventative measures, we can safeguard our shoulders against potential harm. Remember, early intervention and proper care are key to avoiding long-term issues. Let’s prioritise our shoulder health today for a stronger, more resilient tomorrow. If you are looking to get treated for your injury, visit our shoulder pain treatment page.

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Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

About the Author

Dr James Tan is a skilled orthopaedic surgeon who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.

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