There’s nothing more frustrating for an athlete than sitting injured on the sidelines watching others compete. Although there’s no one foolproof way to stop shoulder pain from occurring, there are several tips that may help prevent it from starting or getting worse.

See Shoulder Injuries

A rotator cuff injury is a common cause of pain in people who play sports with repetitive overhead shoulder motions, like tennis. See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Causes and Risk Factors

1. Rest. If you notice shoulder pain during certain activities, say while throwing a baseball or swimming, stop that activity for a period of time and find an alternative exercise, such as riding a stationary bike. Doing so can give your shoulder some time to rest and heal, while maintaining your cardiovascular fitness.

See The P.R.I.C.E. Protocol Principles

At the same time, don’t eliminate all shoulder movement. This is because you don’t want to develop a stiff shoulder from infrequent use. Consider doing some mild stretches to keep your arm moving.

Watch: Video: Towel Shoulder Stretch

2. Change your sleeping position. If you notice pain in your right shoulder, don’t sleep on your right side. Try sleeping on your left side or back instead. If sleeping on your back irritates your shoulder, try propping your arm up with a pillow.


3. Warm up. Exercising cold muscles is never a good idea. Before practicing your volleyball serve or baseball pitch, warm up your body with mild exercise. For example, start walking for a few minutes and gradually build up to a jog. Doing so raises your heart rate and body temperature and activates the synovial fluid (lubricant) in your joints. 1 Hodgkin D. Physiology and Fitness Course Guidebook. The Great Courses. 2012; 1-329. In other words, a mild warm up gets your body ready for the intense workout that follows.

4. Build up your endurance. It’s a good idea to increase your endurance over time. If it’s been a few weeks or months since you’ve hit the tennis court, consider playing for a short period of time—maybe just 20 minutes to start—and build up to a longer period of playing time. Don’t fall into the trap of doing too much too soon, especially when your body is not used to it.

5. Increase your shoulder strength. Strengthening your shoulder muscles can help provide support and stabilization to your shoulder joint. This, in turn, may prevent painful injuries like a shoulder dislocation, which is when the ball of your shoulder comes out of its socket.

Speak to your doctor before starting a strengthening program. They can suggest exercises to perform or may recommend working with a physical therapist.

6. Cross-train. Some sports are particularly taxing on the shoulder due to repetitive, overhead movements. So you may want think about cross-training. If you’re a swimmer, for example, alternate some of your swimming workouts with a running or biking workout to reduce the stress on your shoulder, while still staying physically fit.

Alternatively, if you’re a painter or construction worker—two occupations commonly associated with repetitive, overhead movements—talk to your boss and ask if there are other non-repetitive tasks you can take on.

Above all, listen to your body and be proactive. You may need to make some adjustments to workout or daily routine to help prevent further damage down the road. It may also be worth getting your doctor’s input, even if you think you’ve got a minor injury. Catching injuries or discomfort early may help keep you in the game and prevent painful injuries down the road.

Treating Acute Sports and Exercise Injuries in the First 24 to 72 Hours

Learn more:

Flexibility Routine for Exercise Ball

Advanced Exercise Ball Program for Runners and Athletes

Amy Haddad is a former Veritas Health editor. She developed content and wrote blogs about sports injuries, risk factors, and treatment options.

  • 1 Hodgkin D. Physiology and Fitness Course Guidebook. The Great Courses. 2012; 1-329.