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.
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.
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.
If you have a SLAP tear, you may also notice a clicking, grinding, locking, or popping sensation in your shoulder.
2. Shoulder instability
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.
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).
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.
3. Rotator cuff injury
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.
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.
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.