by EBSCO Medical Review Board


A shoulder sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support the shoulder. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other.

Capsule of Glenohumeral Joint
Shoulder Joint Capsule
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A shoulder sprain is caused by trauma. The most common way this happens is by:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Forced twisting of the arm
  • A blow to the shoulder
  • Overuse or repetitive movement of the shoulder

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Certain sports, such as swimming, volleyball, baseball, gymnastics, and tennis
  • Jobs that involve:
    • Repetitive shoulder movements, such as heavy lifting
    • Lifting at or above the height of the shoulder
    • Vibration of the shoulder
    • Unusual posture or movements
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Lack of flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
  • Loose joints or connective tissue problems


Problems may be:

  • Pain and swelling around the shoulder
  • Redness, warmth, or bruising around the shoulder
  • Problems moving the shoulder and pain with movement


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how you hurt your shoulder. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shoulder.

It can be hard to tell a shoulder sprain from a fracture or dislocation. Pictures of the shoulder may be taken. This can be done with:


Treatment will depend on the joint involved and how much it is injured. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as rest and ice
  • Medicines, such as over the counter and prescription pain relievers
  • A brace or sling to keep the shoulder still as it heals
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder and improve movement

Some people may need surgery to repair a ligament that is torn.


The risk of a shoulder sprain may be lowered by:

  • Using the right safety gear and techniques when playing sports
  • Stretching and strengthening the ligaments that support the shoulder


American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 


Canadian Orthopaedic Association 

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation 


Derry S, Moore RA, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.

Shoulder problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: Accessed October 12, 2020.

Shoulder separation. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: Accessed October 12, 2020.

Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Accessed October 12, 2020.

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