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
Shoulder sprains may be caused by:
- Falling on an outstretched arm
- Forced twisting of the arm
- A blow to the shoulder
- Overuse 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 lifting
- Lifting at or above the height of your shoulder
- Vibration of the shoulder
- Irregular posture or movements
- Poor coordination
- Poor balance
- Inadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
- Loose joints or connective tissue disorders
Shoulder sprain may cause:
- Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the shoulder
- Redness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulder
- Limited ability to move the shoulder and increased pain with movement
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured your shoulder. The doctor will examine your shoulder to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.
Tests may include:
Shoulder sprains are graded according to their severity:
- Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue.
- Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissue.
- Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue.
Your shoulder will need time to heal. Avoid activities that cause pain or put extra stress on your shoulder.
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes several times a day after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
Pain Relief Medications
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
- Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
- Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
- Prescription pain relievers
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Extra support may be needed to help protect, support, and keep your shoulder in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include:
- Brace or sling—You may need to wear a brace to keep your 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.
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 sports.
- Keep shoulders, back, and chest strong with regular exercises to absorb the energy of sudden physical stress
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
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.