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Shoulder Pain And Its Connection to Sport Injuries

Unfortunately, sports that involve overhand movements, such as passing a ball, can often cause shoulder and upper arm pain. Athletes and amateur sport enthusiasts are prone to extremely uncomfortable shoulder injuries. 

Playing sports like football, rugby, and basketball and other contact sports activities commonly result in shoulder dislocations. Shoulder bursitis, strains and impingement occur more often in water based sports and tennis.

How Shoulder Pain Occurs in Sports

Repetitive stress injuries from sports like baseball, swimming, and other activities dependent on swift and strong shoulder movements place stress on shoulder joints, such as your ​​Acromio-Clavicular Joint

Muscles in the upper arm can also lead to injuries like shoulder impingement or bone spurs injuries that form on your shoulder joints, due to overuse. The shape of the bones that form the arc of your shoulder are worn away usually from an overhand motion.  Moving your arm in a way that involves lifting it above your head, or at 90 degree plus angles can cause this (a movement common in most sports). 

The shoulder is a closely fitted joint composed of the humerus (the bone in your upper arm) and associated tendons, muscles, and bursa sacs (fluid-filled sacs that cushion your bones and prevent friction). All these components work together to make a very narrow arc of bone and ligaments – this is your coracoacromial arch. This becomes smaller when your arm is raised over your head, which can pinch tendons and cause inflammation – especially when done repeatedly.

Pinching or impingement (the latter is the word you probably want to use with your doctor) can lead to rotator cuff syndrome or rotator cuff tears as well as prolonged inflammation of the tendons, shoulder bursitis, and other related problems and chronic upper arm pain, swelling, stiffness, or weakness.

Past Injuries & New Pain

Shoulder or upper arm pain can also be the result of the aforementioned repeat stress injuries. It’s usually felt around the top of the shoulder and extends down the arm, and is particularly acute when the arm is lifted over the head or twisted – think a typical throwing motion, or lifting your arm up to swim freestyle or do a backstroke. If the inflammation is extremely severe, however, it’ll be present all the time and can be worse at night. It may even wake you up from a deep sleep or prevent relaxation altogether.

What Should You Do For Upper Arm Pain?

If you have significant or acute upper arm or shoulder pain, see your doctor as soon as possible (including going to the emergency room if need be). However, if you have chronic pain in your upper arm, shoulder, or anywhere between your elbow and shoulder joint, start by consulting your doctor and asking for a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon with expertise in shoulder joint issues. 

Your shoulders and arms are a complex system and require the experience of an expert to make sure that any pain is alleviated and that you will be able to continue playing the sports and doing the activities that you love.

Treating Your Shoulder Or Upper Arm Pain

Resting and avoiding activities that caused the upper arm pain to begin with is crucial,  athletes will likely need to take a break from their sport of choice. It’s possible to still work out if you don’t use the affected shoulder, if you avoid repetitive movements and take frequent breaks as you may have damage. Speak to your doctor before working out again to know your limitations to reduce more pain from physical activity. 

Differing shoulder joint treatments depend on your injury, and how it’s impacted you This can include past injuries coming to haunt your shoulder again. Common treatments that minimise discomfort in your shoulder from sports include:

  • Icing your upper arm several times per day –  this is recommended particularly after any activity that might cause additional pain or inflammation.
  • Compression bandages elevating your arm above your heart level –  used to reduce swelling and other at home treatments may help you prior to surgery or to even avoid it altogether.

  • Specific exercises or physical therapy or physiotherapy – these are advised to improve muscle, tendon flexibility and strength. Treatments such as ultrasounds, friction massages and soft tissue mobilisation treat scar tissue in the tendons caused by the chronic inflammation.
  • Oral anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections, and local anaesthetics – either three of these can be used possibly in conjunction with physical therapies to relieve the pain and soreness. Sometimes this may prevent the need for shoulder surgery; however, a repeated need for medication to alleviate pain may indicate a need for surgery.

Returning to Sports After An Upper Arm Injury

If you’re currently experiencing shoulder joint issues or aching arms and shoulders, taking the time to heal is a major part of your recovery. Unfortunately, this could take months to even years to ensure your shoulder and upper arm are able to participate in full range movement again. Once you do start playing sports again (after speaking to your doctor), understanding what you should do to protect your shoulder and upper arm and prevent future shoulder pain is essential. 

Preventative Stretches to Ease Shoulder Pain

To prevent inflamed shoulder pain, performing stretches and strengthening exercises is essential to not only help existing pain but to minimise any new possible injuries caused by your sport of choice.  Before you use a full range of motion in your pained shoulder joint (like throwing a ball) stretching is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself! Doing a daily range of motion exercises to help keep joints flexible and prevent further bursitis, tendonitis, and impingement is recommended.


Speak to Melbourne’s best orthopaedic surgeons to understand why you’re experiencing discomfort and if these symptoms are an acute injury or something more serious. Contact us today with a phone call or fill out our online contact form to understand what your shoulder pain is and treatment options to help you get back into sport.