Shoulder injuries can be either acute (sudden onset) or chronic (gradual onset). Sudden onset shoulder injuries usually occur either through direct impact or trauma such as a dislocation or from over stretching or twisting as in a rotator cuff strain. Acute shoulder injuries can become chronic if they are not diagnosed and treated properly. We explain how to recognise and treat shoulder injuries as well as emergency first aid and when to see medical advice.
All acute and chronic shoulder injuries should be treated using the P.R.I.C.E. therapy principles of protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This should be applied at home for at least the first 2 - 3 days.
In order to thoroughly assess any injury, a sound knowledge of the anatomy of the area is required. This enables localised pain to be related to the surrounding structures and muscle injuries to be suspected from painful movements.
Sudden onset or acute shoulder injuries are ones which happen suddenly, often through a fall onto an outstretched arm or through direct impact, over stretching or overloading. Often the athlete will feel a sudden sharp pain with discomfort and/or loss of mobility. Sometimes there will be swelling and inflammation. It is important acute shoulder injuries are treated as soon as possible with the PRICE princples of immediate first aid. Always seek medical advice if pain is severe or you are in any doubt.
Gradual onset shoulder pain or chronic shoulder pain may come on over a period of time. The athlete may not have known the exact time of injury which could have been niggling away for a while as they train through it. Due to the complexity of the shoulder joint, there are some injuries which may appear to have happened suddenly but also may develop gradually over time. A chronic shoulder injury may also be acutely painful.