Whether you're regularly acing serves on the tennis court or playing an occasional game of pick-up basketball on the weekend, you could be at risk for a shoulder injury.
Andrew Islam MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the TriHealth Orthopedic and Spine Institute, explains common shoulder issues and ways to prevent them.
#1: Labrum Tear
What it is: The labrum is a ring of cartilage that goes around the socket of the shoulder joint. This cartilage can detach from the bone, resulting in a labral tear. Overuse – common in swimming and baseball – or sustaining a traumatic event – like a hit in football – can cause a torn labrum.
“You see it in a lot of different sports,” Dr. Islam points out. “People who are what we call 'overhead athletes' – so pitchers, tennis players and volleyball players and swimmers – they get it quite a bit as well.”
Symptoms: Typical symptoms include pain deep inside the joint, feeling like your shoulder is going to slip out of its socket or a painful clicking or popping sensation.
How it’s treated: If you think you have a torn labrum, first, schedule an appointment with your doctor. “Physical therapy is really the first treatment option – strengthening the shoulder – and a large percentage of people can get better with that. It doesn’t matter that the labrum is necessarily torn. It’s the pain and discomfort it causes,” Dr. Islam explains. Physical therapy usually lasts about six weeks.
If physical therapy isn’t successful, your doctor will discuss next steps, which could involve arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
#2: Rotator Cuff Injury
What it is: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint, which allows the shoulder to move and keeps it stable. Rotator cuff injuries in younger athletes are often caused by overuse and irritation.
For adults, these injuries are common in "weekend warriors," or those who aren’t as active during the week, but play in a pick-up game of basketball or do physical weekend chores and overextend themselves.
Symptoms: After a sudden tear, the pain is usually intense. You’ll probably have weakness of the shoulder and arm as well. You may also feel a snapping sensation when you try to move your arm. With a chronic tear, the symptoms of pain and weakness or loss of motion worsen over time.
How it’s treated: “Most of the time, initially, we can treat it without surgery, which is a combo of physical therapy and sometimes a steroid injection,” Dr. Islam says.
If physical therapy doesn’t work or if it’s a full tear, your doctor will probably recommend arthroscopic surgery.
The 2 Best Ways to Prevent Shoulder Injuries
While it’s not feasible to prevent falls, there are other ways you can protect yourself:
- Let your body heal after the season to avoid any overuse injuries
- Avoid single sport specializing
“If a kid plays baseball, they’re focusing, from a young age, on just baseball. They play for their school and then they play on a summer team and then a fall team. What’s happening is we’re seeing the injuries that used to occur in more mature athletes, like in college and in the pros, happening in kids now because they’re overusing it,” Dr. Islam explains.