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Shoulder Injuries

Joe Fleming provides an overview of five common Shoulder Injuries and how to prevent and treat them.

Shoulder injuries are common, especially among athletes and avid gym-goers. The shoulder is one of the most mobile and complex joints in the human body, and because of this, there is a lot that can go wrong if you are not careful.

Keeping your shoulder joints safe and intact is essential if you want to continue playing your favourite sports or performing your favourite exercises. Listed below are five of the most common shoulder injuries, along with tips on preventing and properly treating them.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Four muscles in your upper arm (and the tendons that attach those muscles to the bones) make up the rotator cuff, which protects the shoulder joint and allows you to raise and rotate your arm safely.

Rotator cuff tears are relatively common, especially among middle-aged or older adults experiencing degeneration and a loss of strength. Younger people are also vulnerable to rotator cuffs, especially playing sports like baseball, golf, or tennis. Lifting heavy objects with your arm extended, falling on an extended arm, or trying to catch a heavy object are all activities that can also contribute to rotator cuff tears.

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include soreness and tenderness in the shoulder when the joint is used or has pressure placed on it. Depending on the severity of the tear, you may also have difficulty raising your arm or lying on the injured side of your body.

Mild rotator cuff tears are most often treated with the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation). More serious, complete tears may require surgery.

With all forms of rotator cuff tears, physical therapy is often recommended to help restore proper shoulder movement. Your doctor may also suggest you wear a supportive shoulder brace to protect yourself from further damage once you resume exercise.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a condition that is characterized by extreme stiffness in the shoulder joint. People struggling with frozen shoulders also experience pain when moving the shoulder in any direction.

Doctors are unsure what causes frozen shoulder, but it seems to be influenced by long periods of immobility and scar tissue build-up from a past shoulder injury. There also appears to be a connection between frozen shoulder and inflammatory conditions like diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and thyroid disease.

The most common treatments for frozen shoulder are cortisone shots, physical therapy, and NSAIDs to relieve pain and inflammation.


A strain occurs when the muscle fibre is torn. A sprain occurs when the ligament (tissue that connects bones with other bones) is torn.

Strains and sprains can both occur from overuse or repetitive movements. You are also more susceptible to them if you lift weights or participate in sports while the body is tired.   

Strains and sprains are graded from 1 to 3 on a severity scale. Grade 3 strains and sprains are the most serious and indicate a total rupture of the tissue.

The RICE method is often recommended to treat grade 1 and grade 2 sprains and strains. Grade 3 strains can often be resolved without surgical intervention, but physical therapy and corrective exercises may be required to help you regain full range of motion.


Tendinitis and bursitis are both inflammatory conditions caused by friction and overuse. Both injuries can affect your ability to move your shoulder freely and painlessly.

Tendinitis occurs when the tendons of the shoulder become inflamed. On the other hand, bursitis occurs when the bursa, a small sack of fluid that cushions the tendons, bones, and ligaments, becomes inflamed.

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation can often help resolve tendinitis and bursitis. Rest is essential since the overuse is the most common culprit for both conditions.

To prevent tendinitis and bursitis from returning, it is also crucial for athletes and gym-goers to revise the way they lift and train to avoid slipping back into the same patterns that caused their injury in the first place.


Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons that make up the rotator cuff become pinched between the bones of the shoulder. This pinching leads to pain and swelling, and it's common in people like swimmers and tennis who frequently lift their arms above their head as part of their sport.

Some people also are genetically predisposed to shoulder impingement depending on the shape of their acromion, which is the bony, pointed part of the scapula. People whose acromion are more hook-shaped seem to be more likely to struggle with impingement.

Regardless of the cause of shoulder impingement, the most common treatment protocol involves up to 6-8 weeks of complete rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. Daily stretching and heat therapy -- under the direction of a physical therapist -- are also effective for preventing impingement in the future.

If the condition persists, your doctor may recommend a cortisone injection to speed up healing.

Preventing Shoulder Injuries

Preventing shoulder injuries before they can take you away from training is always preferable to trying to treat them. These tips will help to protect your shoulder joint while lifting and training, as well as in other areas of your life:

  • Warm-up properly before every workout or practice session, especially if you have taken some time off previously.
  • Work with a coach to learn how to lift weights properly, especially when doing overhead pressing movements.
  • Don't lift too much weight too quickly. Start slow are work your way up to heavier weights.
  • Use good posture when sitting or standing to limit pressure on the shoulders.
  • Take breaks during the workday to stretch and move around to prevent stiffness.
  • Use a step stool to avoid straining when reaching for high-place objects.

As you can see, shoulder injury prevention extends beyond the gym or practice field. Keep these safe practices in mind to avoid falling victim to some of the most common shoulder injuries.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FLEMING, J. (2018) Shoulder Injuries [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Joe Fleming is the President at Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. To inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health, and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces, and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.