Sports Injuries of the Shoulder Part 1 - Article by Margarita Gurevich, published in the Great Health Guide


The shoulder is a common joint that is injured during sports, particularly those involving the use of the upper limbs, such as tennis, swimming and others. In this article we will look at several sports injuries of the shoulder and the available physiotherapy treatments.

It’s important to realise that the shoulder is one of the more complex joints in our body. If we look at the knee as a comparison, there aren’t many variations in movement direction. You can bend it or you can straighten it. The shoulder, however, being a ball and socket joint, can move in a large number of ways, especially when you combine movements (such as lifting your arm and then rotating to serve during tennis or perform a stroke during swimming). As a result, there are a lot of ways in which the shoulder and its associated structures can become injured.

1. Rotator cuff tears

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles which stabilise the shoulder and control certain movements. Partial and full tears can occur in any of these muscles as a result of trauma, overuse or as a secondary issue following some other pathology of the shoulder region.

2. Shoulder impingement

Shoulder impingement describes the ‘trapping’ or ‘compression’ of the shoulder’s rotator cuff tendons during normal shoulder movements. This abnormality results in injury to the tendons, leading to pain, inflammation and reduced shoulder function.

3. Bursitis

Bursitis is a condition defined by inflammation of the bursa. A bursa is a lubricated sac of fluid which helps reduce rubbing or chafing of various structures as they move past one another. They can be found in many joints throughout the body. Bursitis can be caused by overuse or due to a single major trauma.

4. Referred pain

As with any presentation of pain or dysfunction, it is important to consider that the site of the pain may not always be where the root of the problem exists. Our nerves run from our spinal cord, out through the various spinal levels and peripherally into our limbs, all the way to our fingertips and toes. Therefore, any disruption along the way can lead to pain which is experienced further down the track. A bulging disc in the neck, spinal canal stenosis or nerve impingement at the facet joint are just a few examples of ways in which nerves can be affected. Your physiotherapist will be able to perform a thorough diagnostic assessment which will determine the exact cause of your shoulder pain and subsequently recommend an appropriate treatment plan.