Joint Injury - The Shoulder

Publication Date: 
Tue, 11/08/2011
By: Alere Staff

Keeping your body moving requires more than just a brain signal from your head to your muscles. Made up of your bones, muscles and joints, your musculoskeletal system helps put these signals to movement. Just like the song from your childhood, your bones attach to each other at joints. On the end of each bone there are linings of smooth cartilage, soft tissues called synovial membranes and fluids that help cushion the movement, making sure your bones do not rub against each other.1

Strong tissues called tendons and ligaments help to make these connections solid.1 These integral parts of the human body help support your weight, your organs and perform basic functions and movement.

However, what happens when you get an injury at any of these precious joint locations? They not only can be painful but can limit your mobility and activity for long periods of time. One of the most common joint injuries to occur is in your shoulder.

The Shoulder Joint

Your shoulder joint is where three different bones connect: the collarbone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and your upper arm bone (humerus).The shoulder joint is one of the most moveable joints in the body, allowing you to rotate your arm up to 180 degrees in three different planes.2 This ability enables you to perform all sorts of functions from swinging a tennis racket to dancing with a partner to simply reaching up to grab an object from a high shelf.

This ability also comes with a price: the shoulder joint is prone to injury and is one of the most commonly dislocated joints of the body.2 The joint’s instability comes from the fact that the ball of the upper arm bone is larger than the shoulder socket that holds it.3 Shoulder joint injuries can occur anywhere and can be caused by a direct hit to the joint or from use in sports play. There are many types of injury that occur including a sprain, strain, dislocation, torn rotator cuff and tendonitis. The most common cause of dislocation in people who are older is from a fall which may also be accompanied by a fracture.2

Treatment for Shoulder Dislocation

The first form of treatment for a dislocated shoulder joint is to make sure the joint gets put back in place before spasms can start to occur as it can make it harder to treat.2 Once the shoulder joint is back in place, the best thing is to follow the rules of RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Your shoulder will heal best if it is used as little as possible for up to 4 weeks followed by rehabilitation and exercise to gain back shoulder strength and movement.2,3

Medications can also be taken to help manage any pain and swelling. It is best to discuss use of medications with your physician to make sure that they do not interact with your warfarin and INR. Depending on the severity of the injury, there are times when surgery may also be required.2

Shoulder Injury Risk and Prevention

Shoulder joint injuries can happen to anyone, but there are some factors that can put you more at risk. As we get older, the protective cartilage can deteriorate and the membranes and fluids can dry up. These changes not only allow your bones to rub painfully up against one another, but they can also reduce your joint’s flexibility, putting you at a greater risk for injury.1 While no one can change the inevitable process of aging, there are some exercises you can do that can help keep you flexible. Some of these exercises include4:

  • Working with stretch bands.
  • Pushups either on the floor or against a wall.
  • Different upper back and shoulder blade exercises.

Other risk factors for shoulder joint injuries include: family history of arthritis, older age, previous joint injuries or being overweight.1 Should you ever feel an unusual pain in your shoulder joint, speak with your physician to prevent a possibility of further injury.

Interested in learning more first aid? Check out these related articles:


  1. Experts in Older Adult Care. Joint Problems: Basic Facts and Information. Health in Aging. March 2012. Retrieved from website:
  2. Quillen, D.M., M.D. et al. Acute Shoulder Injuries. American Family Physician. November 15, 2004. Volume 70, Number 10. Retrieved from website:
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Shoulder Injuries and Disorders. MedlinePlus. April 24, 2015. Retrieved from website:
  4. Preidt, R. Orthopedist Offers Tips for Preventing Shoulder Injuries. HealthDay. April 23, 2015. Retrieved from website: