Shoulder Problems and Injuries
Minor shoulder problems, such as sore muscles and aches and pains, are common. Shoulder problems develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or an injury. They can also be caused by the natural process of aging.
Your shoulder joints move every time you move your arms. To better understand shoulder problems and injuries, you may want to review the anatomy and function of the shoulder . The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint with three main bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), collarbone (clavicle), and shoulder blade (scapula). These bones are held together by muscles, tendons , and ligaments . The shoulder joint has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. Because of this mobility, the shoulder is more likely to be injured or cause problems. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which lies over the top of the shoulder, is also easily injured.
Shoulder problems can be minor or serious. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness, changes in temperature or color, or changes in your range of motion. Shoulder injuries most commonly occur during sports activities, work-related tasks, projects around the home, or falls. Home treatment often can help relieve minor aches and pains.
Sudden (acute) injury
Injuries are the most common cause of shoulder pain.
A sudden (acute) injury may occur from a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the shoulder, or abnormal twisting or bending of the shoulder. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. If nerves or blood vessels have been injured or pinched during the injury, the shoulder, arm, or hand may feel numb, tingly, weak, or cold, or it may look pale or blue. Acute injuries include:
You may not recall having a specific injury, especially if symptoms began gradually or during everyday activities. Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often by overdoing an activity or through repetition of an activity. Overuse injuries include:
Other causes of shoulder symptoms
Overuse and acute injuries are common causes of shoulder symptoms. Less common causes of shoulder symptoms include:
Treatment for a shoulder injury may include first aid measures, physical therapy, medicine, and, in some cases, surgery. Treatment depends on:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
First aid for a suspected broken bone
If a cast or splint is applied, it is important to keep it dry and to try to move the uninjured parts of your limb as normally as possible to help maintain muscle strength and tone. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your cast or splint.
Home treatment for minor symptoms
Home treatment may help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.
If your injury does not require an evaluation by a doctor, you may be able to use home treatment to help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness. It may take up to 6 weeks or longer before your symptoms are gone. Use rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) for home treatment.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
The following tips may prevent shoulder problems or injuries.
General prevention tips
Keep bones strong
Shoulder injuries such as bruises, fractures, or dislocations may be caused by abuse. Suspect possible abuse when an injury cannot be explained or does not match the explanation, repeated injuries occur, or the explanations for the cause of the injury change. Seek help if:
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
If you have a shoulder problem, the following list of questions may help you and your doctor determine how much your shoulder and arm function has changed.
Last Revised: August 23, 2011
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
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