Welcome to Stay in the Game, a monthly blog where the team from the Queen's Center for Sports Medicine shares the latest tips on the treatment and prevention of sports injuries. We want to help you play hard and be well - a winning combination that will keep you in the game all season long.

Shoulder injuries: Overuse

The shoulder is a unique joint due to its extreme ranges of motion. However, this ability to move in many directions also puts the shoulder at risk for injury. Athletes are particularly vulnerable to injuring their shoulders due to repetitive motions causing overuse injuries, such as impingement, tendinitis or degenerative tears.

We continue on the topic of shoulder injuries from last month, examining shoulder overuse.

What causes shoulder overuse?

Some athletes may use their shoulders excessively during their training and competition. Athletes such as swimmers, pitchers or football quarterbacks may unreasonably stress the shoulder by using it for too many hours, by having weak or imbalanced muscles around the shoulder, or by having incorrect technique when performing their sport. Growing athletes who do a lot of throwing may get Little League Shoulder, which is a stress fracture of the growth plate in the upper arm. Athletes may describe sharp, pinching pain in the shoulder, shoulder blade, and upper arm, weakness, loss of velocity or accuracy when throwing or hitting, and pain with sleeping on the injured shoulder.

How can overused shoulders be treated?

Most overuse injuries can be treated with physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications.  Focusing on physical therapy and a home exercise program is important to strengthen the shoulder joint and shoulder blade muscles, stabilizing the shoulder girdle, and restoring proper motion to the joint.  Rest from sports may be necessary to speed healing.  Most doctors do not recommend corticosteroid injections into the shoulders of younger athletes.

When can I return to full activity?

As Dr. Ignacio, our Surgical Director, discussed last spring in her article Common Baseball Injuries, the symptoms from the injury must be completely gone before returning to play.  The athlete should start with a gradual return to overhead activities such as throwing or swimming.  Start with 50% of speed or velocity and only going a short distance, then gradually working your way up to 100% and increased distances.  Working with your coach or athletic trainer to monitor proper mechanics is also critical to recovery because poor technique may have contributed to the original cause of the overuse injury.

What should I do if the shoulder pain continues?

If shoulder pain continues after resting and physical therapy, your doctor may order an MRI to identify the specific damage. Shoulder surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged muscle or cartilage tissue, such as the rotator cuff or labrum.

If you or your athlete experiences a shoulder injury, contact our experts at the Queen's Center for Sports Medicine at 808-691-4449 or click the button below.

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