What sportspeople should know about shoulder pain

Sports that require repetitive, overhead movement as well as contact sports can put your shoulder at risk of injury. 

                                              Repetitive overhead motions can lead to shoulder injuries if neglected.

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, making it prone to injury. Sports that require repetitive, overhead movement as well as contact sports will put your shoulder at risk of injury.

Shoulder injuries among sportspeople mostly from high-force and repetitive activity may result in damage to the soft tissue around the shoulder joint such as the ring of cartilage (labrum), ligaments and tendon of the rotator cuff.

Understanding shoulder pain

Consultant Sports Physician at Ara Damansara Medical Centre (ADMC), Dr Arshad Puji explained that there are three common possible causes of shoulder pain among people who are active in sports.

These include SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior Posterior) injury, shoulder instability and rotator cuff injury.

“SLAP injury is a tear to the ring of the cartilage that surrounds your shoulder socket (glenoid). The tear usually develops over time from repetitive overhead motion such as throwing a baseball, playing volleyball or tennis and swimming.

“You may feel less power in your shoulder when executing certain explosive movements, and you may even feel your shoulder ’popping out ‘. Movements such as lifting objects over the head may cause pain.”

                Dr Arshad Puji.

Dr Arshad further explained that patients may also experience a clicking or grinding sensation, have difficulty performing certain movements they could previously do and find difficulty pinpointing the exact location of the pain as it feels like a deep-seated pain.

Shoulder instability occurs when tissue surrounding the shoulder joint such as tendons, muscles and ligaments are overly stretched or have become lax over time and are unable to secure or maintain the stability of the joint.

This can happen if the shoulder sustains impact or direct trauma through contact sports like rugby, football and martial arts, or traumatic events like falling and landing on the shoulder in a road traffic accident.

                                    Contact martial arts such as judo can cause trauma to the shoulder over time.

Dr Arshad elaborated that the symptoms of an unstable shoulder may range from mild to severe.

“You may experience shoulder subluxation that usually manifests in short bursts of pain, temporary weakness and lack of movement or shoulder dislocation that results in severe pain, restricted movement and swelling with bruises. This requires immediate medical attention.”

As for rotator cuff injury, the rotator cuff is a group of four muscles surrounding the shoulder joint (gleno-humeral joint). The main function is to stabilise and keep the shoulder joint in place. But repetitive overhead movements in sports will cause a lot of strain on this muscle group.

“These muscles have to pass through a narrow ‘tunnel arch’ made up of bones and tissue (coracoid-acromial arch) to provide movement. The friction that may occur during these motions can lead to injury to the rotator cuff muscle over a long period of time,” said Dr Arshad.

The symptoms of rotator cuff injury are shoulder weakness, limited shoulder motion, stiffness and pain when doing certain movements, especially overhead ones.

Symptoms that indicate things might be getting worse are discomfort at night that disturb sleep and pain when lying on the side of the injured shoulder.

The least common injury to the shoulder is a ligament sprain, muscle strain, muscular imbalance, impingement or bone spurs and broken bones.

Taking care of your shoulder the right way

                                                     If shoulder pain persists, seek professional medical attention.

Dr Arshad explained that shoulder pain or soreness should not last long. “If the pain persists or there is stiffness that hurts your shoulders more than usual, it is best to seek expert medical opinion as this may indicate something more serious.”

A sports physician will evaluate your condition and determine the cause of the injury after a careful history and clinical examination.

Investigation like diagnostic ultrasound, MRI or CT scan may be required to further assess the severity of the injury and help the doctor to recommend the best treatment options.

Dr Arshad elaborated that early and mild forms of injury are usually treated conservatively by prescribing adequate medication to control the pain and stiffness.

Careful clinical evaluation that will determine possible contributing factors such as training fault, muscle imbalance and soft tissue injury will be addressed accordingly.

In cases of late or advance injury or when conservative treatment fails to yield the expected results, surgical intervention may be considered.

Prevention is better than cure

People involved in sports that require high force or repetitive overhead activities must strategise their training plan to minimise the risk of injury to their shoulder joint.

Here are some tips by Dr Arshad:

  1. Condition your muscles for strength, endurance and muscle balance during the “off season” as this is a good way to prevent shoulder injury.
  2. Make it a habit to adequately warm up before high-intensity training or matches. This will include doing light aerobics, stretching and muscle activation exercises.
  3. Time your food and fluid intake based on your training plan or match schedule as this will help prevent muscle cramps and undue fatigue that may cause further injury.

Need more information? Call 03-5639 1888 today for a consultation with our sports physician.


Free Malaysia Today (27/10/2022)