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5 Common Shoulder Injuries in Athletes

5 Common Shoulder Injuries in Athletes

More than a third of injuries in athletes occur in the wrist, elbow, or shoulder. And among shoulder injuries, about a third are due to accidents, overuse, or poor form during sports.

Once you injure your shoulder, you’re likely to injure it again. A consequence of a shoulder injury can be shoulder instability, which puts you at risk for recurrent dislocations. Sports that commonly result in shoulder injuries include:

Sports medicine specialist David Lintner, MD, has developed extensive and precise shoulder rehab protocols, which he offers at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, in Baytown and Houston, Texas. However, he would rather you avoid a shoulder injury in the first place. 

Following are five of the most common types of shoulder injuries and what can be done if you experience one.

1. Instability

Your shoulder moves so freely and in so many directions because it’s a ball-and-socket joint with a very shallow socket plate. Unfortunately, the shallowness of the socket means that the ball of the upper arm (i.e., humerus) can easily slip out of place due to weakened tendons, ligaments, and muscles or because of a high-velocity throw, swing, or injury.

If your shoulder is unstable, you may actually hear or feel it move out of its socket with a loud “pop.” It’s also difficult to move your arm, particularly if you try to raise it overhead. You may hear clicking sounds as you try to move your arm.

Even if you didn’t feel pain while playing due to adrenaline and focus, you may feel it after the game. You may also experience tingling or numbness in your hands or fingers.

As soon as you suspect you’ve dislocated your shoulder, come to us for an exam, imaging, and diagnosis. Although your shoulder may have been dislocated by a fall or a collision, you might also have experienced a tear in your labrum, which holds your shoulder in place.

2. Rotator cuff sprains and strains

The rotator cuff consists of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround the head of your humerus and keep it in its socket. These tissues can be stretched or torn, resulting in sprains and strains.

Athletes who throw or swing overhead, such as tennis players and pitchers, are particularly prone to rotator cuff injuries. Symptoms include pain and a dull ache in the shoulder that worsens at night.

It’s important to have a rotator cuff injury diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Sprains and strains in the rotator cuff put you at increased risk for shoulder dislocation. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a short course of physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your rotator cuff.

3. Internal impingement

An internal impingement usually starts with an injury that causes the tissues in the rotator cuff or the protective bursa to become inflamed and swell. The swollen tissue fills the space between the cuff and your shoulder blade. Therefore, when you move your shoulder blade (aka scapula), it rubs against this tender tissue.

As the scapula rubs against and irritates the rotator cuff or bursa, it makes the inflammation worse. More swelling means there’s even less space between the cuff or bursa and the scapula, leading to more inflammation. You may need medications and steroid shots in addition to physical therapy to reduce swelling.

4. Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit (GIRD)

Pitchers and others who throw at high speeds are at risk for glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD). The extreme external rotation your shoulder undergoes when throwing loosens and stretches the ligaments at the front of the shoulder. In compensation, the soft tissues in the back of the shoulder tighten.

The tightened back shoulder tissues prevent free internal rotation. The lack of mobility puts you at risk for labral and rotator cuff tears.

5. Scapular Rotation Dysfunction (SICK Scapula)

Scapular rotation dysfunction (i.e., SICK scapula) occurs when the muscles that keep your scapula moving up and down are overused, stretched, or injured. Your scapula is the only bone that connects your collarbone to your humerus. 

Without adequate support from weakened muscles and tendons, the scapula droops. You may feel pain at the front of your shoulder near your clavicle. The muscles in the chest tighten to compensate for the tight back muscles, putting you at risk for further shoulder injury.

If you injure or dislocate your shoulder, contact us immediately for diagnosis and treatment by contacting our office nearest you by phone or online form.

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