Shoulder injuries most commonly occur in athletes participating in sports such as swimming, tennis, pitching, and weightlifting. The injuries are caused due to the over usage or repetitive motion of the arms.
Shoulder injuries cause pain, stiffness, restricted movements, difficulty in performing routine activities, and popping sensation.
Some of the common shoulder injuries include sprains and strains, dislocations, tendinitis, bursitis, rotator cuff injury, fractures, and arthritis.
- Sprains and strains: A sprain is stretching or tearing of ligaments (tissues that connect adjacent bones in a joint). It is a common injury and usually occurs when you fall or suddenly twist. A strain is stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon (tissues that connect muscle to bone). It is common in people participating in sports. Strains are usually caused by twisting or pulling of the tendons.
- Dislocations: A shoulder dislocation is an injury that occurs when the ends of the bone are forced out of its position. It is often caused by a fall or direct blow to the joint while playing contact sport.
- Tendinitis: It is an inflammation of a tendon, a tissue that connects muscles to bone. It occurs because of injury or overuse.
- Bursitis: It is an inflammation of fluid filled sac called bursa that protects and cushions your joints. Bursitis can be caused by chronic overuse, injury, arthritis, gout, or infection.
- Rotator cuff injury: The rotator cuff consists of tendons and muscles that hold the bones of the shoulder joint together. Rotator cuff muscles allow you to move your arm up and down. Rotator cuff injuries often cause a decreased range of motion.
- Fractures: A fracture is a break in the bone that commonly occurs because of injury, such as a fall or a direct blow to the shoulder.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of shoulder arthritis, characterized by progressive wearing away of the cartilage of the joint.
Early treatment is necessary to prevent serious shoulder injuries. The immediate mode of treatment recommended for shoulder injuries is rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce the swelling and pain.
Your doctor may recommend a series of exercises to strengthen shoulder muscles and to regain shoulder movement.
Clavicle fracture, also called broken collarbone is a very common sports injury seen in people who are involved in contact sports such as football and martial arts as well as impact sports such as motor racing. A direct blow over the shoulder that may occur during a fall on an outstretched arm or a motor vehicle accident may cause the clavicle bone to break. Broken clavicle may cause difficulty in lifting your arm because of pain, swelling and bruising over the bone.
Broken clavicle bone, usually heals without surgery, but if the bone ends have shifted out of place (displaced) surgery will be recommended. Surgery is performed to align the bone ends and hold them stable during healing. This improves the shoulder strength. Surgery for the fixation of clavicle fractures may be considered in the following circumstances:
- Multiple fractures
- Compound (open) fractures
- Fracture associated with nerve or blood vessel damage and scapula fracture
- Overlapping of the broken ends of bone (shortened clavicle)
Plates and Screws fixation
During this surgical procedure, your surgeon will reposition the broken bone ends into normal position and then uses special screws or metal plates to hold the bone fragments in place. These plates and screws are usually left in the bone. If they cause any irritation, they can be removed after fracture healing is complete.
Placement of pins may also be considered to hold the fracture in position and the incision required is also smaller. They often cause irritation in the skin at the site of insertion and must be removed once the fracture heals.
Patients with diabetes, the elderly individuals and people who make use of tobacco products are at a greater risk of developing complications both during and after the surgery. In addition to the risks that occur with any major surgery, certain specific risks of clavicle fracture surgery include difficulty in bone healing, lung injury and irritation caused by hardware.
Percutaneous elastic intramedullary nailing of the clavicle is a newer and less invasive procedure with lesser complications. It is considered as a safe method for fixation of displaced clavicle fractures in adolescents and athletes as it allows rapid healing and faster return to sports. The procedure is performed under fluoroscopic guidance. It involves a small 1 cm skin incision near the sternoclavicular joint, and then a hole is drilled in the anterior cortex after which an elastic nail is inserted into the medullary canal of the clavicle. Then the nail is passed on to reach the fracture site. A second operation to remove the nail will be performed after 2-3 months.
Fracture of the Shoulder Blade
The scapula (shoulder blade) is a flat, triangular bone providing attachment to the muscles of the back, neck, chest and arm. The scapula has a body, neck and spine portion.
Scapular fractures are uncommon but do occur and require a large amount of force to fracture. They are usually the result of intense trauma, such as a high-speed motor vehicle accident or a fall from height onto one’s back. They can also occur from a fall on an outstretched arm if the humeral head impacts on the glenoid cavity.
Symptoms of a scapular fracture include the following:
- Pain: Usually severe and immediate following injury to the scapula.
- Swelling: The scapular area quickly swells following the injury.
- Bruising: Bruising occurs soon after injury.
- Impaired Mobility: Decreased range of motion of the joint occurs, often with inability to straighten the arm.
- Numbness: Numbness, tingling, or coldness of the hand and forearm can occur if blood supply is impaired or nerves are injured.
- Popping Sound: A cracking or popping sound, also referred to as crepitus, can often be heard or felt at the time of the fracture.
Scapular fractures should be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Your surgeon will perform the following:
- Medical History
- Physical Examination
Diagnostic Studies may include:
- X-rays: A form of electromagnetic radiation that is used to take pictures of bones.
- CT scan: This test creates images from multiple X-rays and shows your physician structures not seen on regular X-ray.
- MRI: Magnetic and radio waves are used to create a computer image of soft tissue such as nerves and ligaments.
Most scapular fractures are not significantly displaced due to the strong supporting soft tissue structures surrounding it. Therefore, most scapular fractures are treated conservatively and with early motion to reduce the risk of stiffness and will usually heal without affecting shoulder movement.
Conservative treatment options include:
- Immobilization: A sling is used for comfort and to support the shoulder to allow healing to take place. This is usually worn about 3-6 weeks depending on the type of fracture and how well you heal.
- Prescription Medications: Pain medications will be prescribed for your comfort during the healing process.
- Physical Therapy: Early progressive range of motion exercises is essential in restoring full shoulder function. Your physician will most likely refer you to a Physical Therapist for instruction on proper exercises and early motion of the shoulder to prevent complications.
Fractures of the scapula involving the neck or glenoid or with severe displacement have been associated with poor outcomes when treated non-operatively. will usually require surgical intervention to realign the bones properly and restore a functional, pain free range of motion to the shoulder joint.
Scapular fracture repair surgery has historically been performed through a large, open incision. Newer, minimally invasive techniques have evolved and surgery to repair scapular fractures can now be performed through arthroscopy.
Adult Forearm Fractures
The forearm is made up of 2 bones, namely, the radius and ulna. The primary function of your forearm is rotation i.e., the ability to turn your palm up and down. The fracture of the forearm affects the ability to rotate your arm, as well as bend and straighten the wrist and elbow. The breaking of the radius or ulna in the middle of the bone requires a strong force and it is most commonly seen in adults. In most of the cases, both bones are broken during a forearm fracture.
The forearm bones can break in several ways. The bones can crack slightly or can break into many pieces. Forearm fractures are generally due to automobile accidents; direct blow on the forearm or fall on an outstretched arm during sports, climbing stairs, etc.
The symptoms of a forearm fracture include intense pain in the arm, bruises and swelling. Your fractured forearm may appear bent and shorter compared to your other arm. You may experience numbness or weakness in the fingers and wrist. You may be unable to rotate your arm. Sometimes, a broken bone sticks out through the skin or the wound penetrates down to the broken bone.
Your doctor may conduct a physical examination and record your medical history initially. Your doctor may feel your arm thoroughly to determine tenderness. You may be asked to get an X-ray done to determine displaced or broken bones.
Usually people with forearm fractures are immediately rushed to the emergency room for treatment. Treatment of forearm fractures aims at putting back the broken bones into position and preventing them from moving out of place until they are completely healed.
In case only one bone is broken and is not out of place, your doctor might treat it with a cast or brace and provide a sling to keep your arm in position. Your doctor will closely monitor the healing of the fracture. If the fracture shifts in position, you may be advised to undergo surgery to fix the bones back together.
When both forearm bones are broken, surgery is usually required. During surgery, the cuts from the injury will be cleaned and the bone fragments are repositioned into their normal alignment. They are held together with screws and metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone. The incision is sutured firmly and a sling is provided to facilitate healing.
Distal Humerus Fractures of the Elbow
The elbow is a region between the upper arm and the fore arm. The elbow joint is made up of 3 bones. The distal (lower) end of the humerus bone in the upper arm joins with the radius and ulna bones in the fore arm to form the elbow joint. The elbow joint is very important for the movement of your arms and for coordination of daily activities. Injury in the distal humerus can cause impairment in the function of the elbow joint. Distal humerus fracture is a rare condition which occurs when there is break in the lower end of the humerus. The treatment of distal humerus fracture aims at restoration of normal anatomy.
A distal humerus fracture may result due to a fall. This occurs more often when you land directly on your elbow during the fall or when you get struck by a hard object. It can also happen when you fall on your outstretched arm with the elbow locked straight.
Distal humerus fractures are usually very painful. The common symptoms are swelling, bruising, stiffness, tenderness, severe pain and inability to move the arm.
Distal humerus fractures are generally considered an emergency condition. Your doctor might examine the skin to check for any cuts and feel it to determine the presence of broken bones or injuries. Your doctor might recommend an X-ray examination to determine the depth (intact or broken bones) of the fracture.
Distal humerus fractures can be treated by both non-surgical and surgical methods based on the intensity of the fracture.
If the fracture has not caused displacement of the bone, then your doctor might apply a splint (a casting) and you may be required to wear a sling until complete healing and recovery occurs.
Your doctor might recommend surgery if the fracture has led to the displacement of bone and pieces of the bone have exited the skin. During surgery, the displaced bone or pieces of bone are joined together with the help of metal screws and plates. You may also be given antibiotics to avoid the risk of infection.
Care should be taken while you walk or run and especially while climbing up/down the stairs. This can prevent you from falling and eventually from accidental fractures.
Radial Head Fractures of the Elbow
The elbow is a junction between the forearm and the upper arm. The elbow joint is made up of 3 bones namely the humerus bone in the upper arm which joins with the radius and ulna bones in the forearm. The elbow joint is essential for the movement of your arms and to perform daily activities. The head of the radius bone is cup-shaped and corresponds to the spherical surface of the humerus. The injury in the head of the radius causes impairment in the function of the elbow. Radial head fractures are very common and occur in almost 20% of acute elbow injuries. Elbow dislocations are generally associated with radial head fractures. Radial head fractures are more common in women than in men and occur more frequently in the age group of 30 and 40 years.
The most common cause of a radius head fracture is breaking a fall with an outstretched arm. Radial head fractures can also occur due to a direct impact on the elbow, a twisting injury, sprain, dislocation or strain.
The symptoms of a radial head fracture include severe pain, swelling in the elbow, difficulty in moving the arm, visible deformity indicating dislocation, bruising and stiffness.
Your doctor might recommend an X-ray to confirm the fracture and assess displacement of the bone. Sometimes, your doctor might suggest a CT scan to obtain further details of the fracture, especially the joint surfaces.
The treatment of a fracture depends on the type of fracture.
- Type 1 fractures are usually very small. The bone appears cracked, but remains fitted together. The doctor might use a splint (casting) to fix the bone and you might have to wear a sling for a few days. If the crack becomes intense or the fracture gets deep, then your doctor might suggest surgical treatment.
- Type 2 fractures are characterized by displacement of bones and breaking of bones in large pieces and can be treated by surgery. During surgery, your doctor will correct the soft-tissue injuries and insert screws and plates to hold the displaced bone together firmly. Small pieces of bone may be removed if it prevents normal movement of the elbow.
- Type 3 fractures are characterized by multiple broken pieces of bone. Surgery is considered the compulsory treatment to either fix or to remove the broken pieces of bone, sometimes including the radial head. An artificial radius head may be placed to improve the function of the elbow.
The glenoid is the socket that forms the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. Fractures of the glenoid are rare but can occur due to major trauma or during high-energy sports activities.
Symptoms of a glenoid fracture include shoulder pain, swelling, deformity at the site of the fracture and inability to move the arm. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination and order X-ray’s or a CT scan to determine the extent of the fracture and displacement of the joint.
Non-displaced fractures require immobilization in a sling for about six weeks. If the fracture has led to the displacement of the bones, then surgery may be required to correct and fix them with pins, plates or screws. Physical therapy may be recommended to aid recovery, and improve range-of-motion and strength of the arm.
Baseball and Shoulder Injuries
Shoulder injuries in baseball players are usually associated with pitching. While this overhand throwing activity can produce great speed and distance for the ball, when performed repeatedly, it can place a lot of stress on the shoulder.
The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint, formed by the bone of the upper arm (humerus), which articulates with the shoulder blade in a cavity called the glenoid fossa. The joint relies a great deal on surrounding soft-tissue structures such as tendons, ligaments and muscles (rotator cuff muscles) to maintain smooth motion and stability. The glenoid cavity is surrounded by a raised ridge of cartilage called the labrum that deepens the cavity and a ligamentous structure called the shoulder capsule centers the humerus in the cavity. The biceps muscle, certain back muscles as well as a group of muscles called the rotator cuff all work together to stabilize the shoulder.
While pitching, the arm is thrown outward and backward to generate speed. This action forces the head of the humerus forward, stressing the surrounding ligaments and tendons. These stresses can lead to injuries, causing pain and inflammation. Common injuries include:
- Tears of the labrum
- Tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) and tears of the rotator cuff
- Tendonitis and tears of the biceps tendon
- Impingement of the rotator cuff tendons between the humeral head and glenoid
- Partial dislocation of the joint (instability)
Pain and instability of the shoulder can result in reduced throwing velocity and accuracy.
Your therapist will assess your shoulder injury by reviewing your pain and the movements that produces it, and performing a thorough physical examination. Imaging studies such as X-rays and MRIs may be ordered.
Most shoulder injuries involve soft tissue structures which can be treated by a period of rest, ice application, medication and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles and ligaments, improving and maintaining range of motion. A change in throwing technique may be suggested to reduce stress on the injured shoulder.
Three bones, the humerus, radius and ulna, make up the elbow joint. Elbow fractures may occur from trauma, resulting from various reasons; some of them being a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the elbow, or an abnormal twist to the joint beyond its functional limit. The types of elbow fractures include:
- Radial head and neck fractures: Fractures in the head portion of the radius bone are referred to as radial head and neck fractures.
- Olecranon fractures: These are the most common elbow fractures, occurring at the bony prominence of the ulna.
- Distal humerus fractures: These fractures are common in children and elderly people. Nerves and arteries in the joint may sometimes be injured in these fractures.
Symptoms of an elbow fracture include pain, bruising, stiffness, swelling in and around the elbow, a popping or cracking sound, numbness or weakness in the arm, wrist and hand, and deformity of the elbow bones.
To diagnose an elbow fracture X-rays of the joint are taken. In some cases, a CT scan may be needed to view the details of the joint surface.
The aim of treatment is to maximize early motion and to reduce the risk of stiffness. Nonsurgical treatment options include pain medication, ice application, the use of a splint or a sling to immobilize the elbow during the healing process and physical therapy. Surgery is indicated in displaced and open fractures to realign the bones and stabilize the joint with screws, plates, pins and wires. Strengthening exercises are recommended to improve the range of motion.