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A shoulder sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the shoulder. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.
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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
Here are some factors that may raise your risk:
- Playing sports, such as swimming, volleyball, baseball, gymnastics, and tennis
Jobs that involve:
- Repetitive shoulder movements, such as heavy lifting
- Lifting at or above the height of your shoulder
- Vibration of the shoulder
- Unusual posture or movements
- Poor coordination
- Poor balance
- Lack of flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
- Loose joints or connective tissue problems
Having this problem may cause:
- Pain and swelling around the shoulder
- Redness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulder
- Problems moving the shoulder and pain with movement
You will be asked about your symptoms and how you hurt your shoulder. The stability of your shoulder joint and the severity of the injury will be checked.
Pictures may be taken of your shoulder. This can be done with:
Shoulder sprains are graded from 1 to 3:
- Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament
- Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament
- Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament
The shoulder will need time to heal. Activities that cause pain or put extra stress on the shoulder should be stopped.
Ice may help reduce swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
Pain Relief Medicines
To manage pain, your doctor may advise:
- Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen
- Topical pain medicine—creams or patches that are put on the skin
- Prescription pain medicine
Note: Aspirin is not advised 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 the shoulder in line. This may mean:
- Wearing a brace or sling
- Exercises advised by your doctor or physical therapist
- Surgery, in some cases
You may not be able to prevent a shoulder sprain. There are steps you can take to lower your chance of getting one, such as:
- Wearing protective equipment and using proper technique while playing sports
- Keeping shoulders, back, and chest strong with regular exercise
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Benjamin HJ, Hang BT. Common Acute Upper Extremity Injuries In Sports. Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine. 2007;8(1):15-30.
Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.
Shoulder problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Shoulder%5FProblems/default.asp. Updated April 2014. Accessed June 11, 2018.
Shoulder separation. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00033. Updated October 2017. Accessed June 11, 2018.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
- Review Date: 05/2018
- Update Date: 06/22/2015