3 Common Shoulder Sports Injuries

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, which also makes it prone to injury. If you’re an athlete, taxing your shoulder over time with repetitive, overhead movements or participating in contact sports may put your shoulder at risk for injury.

See Guide to Shoulder Anatomy

There are several nonsurgical and surgical options available to treat labrum tears in the shoulder.
Labrum Tear Treatments

These are three common shoulder injuries caused by sports participation:


1. SLAP tear

This is a tear to the ring of cartilage (labrum) that surrounds your shoulder's socket. A SLAP tear tends to develop over time from repetitive, overhead motions, such as throwing a baseball, playing tennis or volleyball, or swimming.

See SLAP Tear Shoulder Injury and Treatment

You may notice these telltale symptoms:

  • Athletic performance decreases. You have less power in your shoulder, and your shoulder feels like it could “pop out.”
  • Certain movements cause pain. You notice that pain occurs with certain movements, like throwing a baseball or lifting an object overhead.
  • Range of motion decreases. You may not throw or lift an object overhead like you used to, as your range of motion decreases. You may also find reaching movements difficult.
  • Shoulder pain you can’t pinpoint. You have deep, achy pain in your shoulder, but you can't pinpoint the exact location.

See SLAP Tear Symptoms

If you have a SLAP tear, you may also notice a clicking, grinding, locking, or popping sensation in your shoulder.

2. Shoulder instability

Three factors can make the shoulder more susceptible to dislocation: repetitive overhead movement, previous dislocation, and genetics. Read Causes and Risk Factors for a Dislocated Shoulder

It’s common to experience shoulder instability if you’re an athlete. This injury can occur if you’re participating in contact sports, including football or hockey, or ones that require repetitive movements, like baseball.

See 3 Causes of Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability happens when your ligaments, muscles, and tendons no longer secure your shoulder joint. As a result, the round, top part of your upper arm bone (humeral head) dislocates (the bone pops out of the shoulder socket completely), or subluxates (the bone partially comes out of the socket).

See Shoulder Dislocation Injury (Dislocated Shoulder)

Dislocation is characterized by severe, sudden onset of pain; subluxation (partial dislocation) may be accompanied by short bursts of pain. Other symptoms include arm weakness and lack of movement. Swelling and bruising on your arm are visible changes you may also notice.

See Dislocated Shoulder Symptoms

3. Rotator cuff injury

When treating a rotator cuff injury, doctors may order medical imaging right away or prescribe nonsurgical treatment and take a wait-and-see approach. See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Diagnosis

This is another injury commonly seen in athletes participating in repetitive, overhead sports, including swimming and tennis. Rotator cuff injuries are typically characterized by weakness in the shoulder, reduced range of motion, and stiffness.

See Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries are also painful. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pain at night is common; you may not be able to sleep comfortably on the side of your injured shoulder.
  • Pain may be experienced with certain movements, especially overhead movements.
  • Pain in your shoulder or arm may also occur.

See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Symptoms

Similar to a SLAP tear, people with rotator cuff injuries often experience achy shoulder pain.

Being aware of these injuries and knowing their symptoms may encourage you to seek medical treatment sooner; early treatment intervention could result in a better outcome and earlier return to sports.

Learn more:

SLAP Tear Causes and Risk Factors

Diagnosing Shoulder Labral Tears