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
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Shoulder sprains may be caused by: Falling on an outstretched armForced twisting of the armA blow to the shoulderOveruse or repetitive movement of the shoulder joint
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 liftingLifting at or above the height of your shoulderVibration of the shoulderIrregular posture or movementsPoor coordinationPoor balanceInadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligamentsLoose joints or connective tissue disorders
Shoulder sprain may cause: Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the shoulderRedness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulderLimited ability to move the shoulder and increased pain with movement
You will be asked about your symptoms and how you injured your shoulder. The stability of your shoulder joint and the severity of the injury will be assessed.
Tests may include: X-raysMRI scanArthrogram
Shoulder sprains are graded according to their severity: Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissueGrade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissueGrade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue
The shoulder will need time to heal. Activities that cause pain or put extra stress on the shoulder should be avoided.
Ice may help decrease swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
To manage pain, your doctor may advise: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofenTopical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skinPrescription pain relievers
Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Brace or sling—A brace may be needed to keep the 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.
Extra support may be needed to help protect, support, and keep the shoulder in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include:
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 sportsKeeping shoulders, back, and chest strong with regular exercises to absorb the energy of sudden physical stress
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Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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