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Shoulder Injuries

Pitching. Serving. Lifting. Throwing. These crucial components of your game can result in minor and major shoulder injuries — especially when performed season after season. At Henry Ford, we see hundreds of athletes every year who’ve sustained shoulder injuries in activities like baseball, tennis, weightlifting or swimming. Regardless of your sport, the Henry Ford sports medicine team is comprised of experts with decades of experience who know the most common causes, diagnoses and treatments for shoulder pain.

Common shoulder injuries

  • Shoulder impingement

    Normally, the tendons and ligaments in your shoulder move without bumping into your bones. But when shoulder impingement occurs, your rotator cuff becomes inflamed or irritates and catches, rubs, or “impinges” against the top of the shoulder, or the shoulder socket itself resulting in painful arm/shoulder movements. The injury is particularly common among swimmers and baseball players and is also known as swimmer’s shoulder or thrower’s shoulder.


    • Pain or difficulty when reaching above your head or behind your back
    • Weakness in the shoulder
    • Pain while sleeping on the injured area.

    Average recovery time

    A few weeks to a few months, usually treated without surgery.

  • SLAP tears

    A SLAP tear (short for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) is an injury to your shoulder’s labrum — the thick band of tissue that surrounds your shoulder socket attached to the biceps tendon. A SLAP tear occurs in the top (superior), the front (anterior) and back (posterior) of the point where the biceps tendon attaches to the labrum.


    • Low range of motion
    • Pain when reaching overhead
    • Loss of strength in the shoulder

    Average recovery time

    About eight to 12 weeks, may require surgery.

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis

    The rotator cuff is responsible for keeping your arm in your shoulder socket. Rotator cuff tendinitis occurs when the group of muscles that make up the rotator cuff in your shoulder are irritated or inflamed. This is often caused by falls or repeated motions like lifting things above your head.


    • Swelling and tenderness in the front of your shoulder
    • Clicking in your shoulder when you raise your arms above your head
    • A loss of strength or range of motion.

    Average recovery time

    Two to four weeks, no surgery required.

  • Rotator cuff tear

    A torn rotator cuff occurs when one of the tendons attached to the shoulder joint is torn from the bone. Partial and complete tears typically occur in two ways: 1) A sudden acute tear, caused by a fall on your arm or after a sudden jerking motion when trying to lift a heavy object 2) A tear that occurs slowly over time, often due to overuse.


    • A dull ache in the shoulder
    • Difficulty raising your arm above your head or behind your back

    Average recovery time

    About four to six months, tears from an injury usually need surgery where overuse tears can usually be treated with therapy.

  • Frozen shoulder

    A frozen shoulder — also known as adhesive capsulitis — occurs when the shoulder capsule thickens and becomes stiff and tight, sometimes to the point where you can’t move your shoulder on your own or with the help of a doctor.


    • A gradual increase in pain
    • Followed by a loss of range in motion
    • A stiff shoulder

    Average recovery time

    Anywhere from a few weeks to several months, usually does not need surgery.

  • Shoulder instability

    In patients with shoulder instability, the upper arm bone comes out of the shoulder’s socket. This can result in a partial dislocation (called subluxation) and may feel as if the shoulder has slipped out of place. For others, shoulder instability can result in a full shoulder dislocation (or frequent, multiple dislocations), which can lead to damage of the nerves around the shoulder.


    • Shoulder pain
    • Repeated dislocations
    • A “loose” feeling in the shoulder

    Average recovery time

    A few weeks to several months. Sometimes athletes can get back in the game after a few weeks treatment but most will need surgery, especially contact athletes.

When to see a doctor

If shoulder pain is preventing you from carrying out daily tasks, consult a Henry Ford physician. Other reasons to make an appointment include loss of movement or flexibility, pain during repeated activities and pain that prevents you from getting quality sleep.

See a doctor immediately if your shoulder pain was caused by a particularly forceful impact, collision, something “popped out” or if it’s accompanied by:

  • Visible swelling
  • Redness or bruising
  • Pain that lasts more than a few days

Request an appointment with an orthopedic specialist

How we treat shoulder injuries

The shoulder is one of the most commonly injured joints in the body, and at Henry Ford we treat hundreds of athletes with shoulder pain every year.

When you visit us for shoulder treatment, a member of our sports medicine team will evaluate your injury, starting with a physical exam to determine the severity and source of your pain. Depending on what your doctor finds, an X-Ray or MRI might be the next step in your evaluation, followed by a diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan designed to restore your shoulder to full health and maximum performance.

Treatment options

  • Non-Surgical
  • Surgical

R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) — When a shoulder injury first occurs, patients should rest the affected area to prevent further injury from occurring; ice it to reduce pain and compress it to reduce swelling.

Physical Therapy — Many shoulder injuries can be treated with physical therapy, either on its own or in conjunction with surgery. For recovering patients, Henry Ford’s rehabilitation team takes a multidisciplinary approach, combining exercise and strength training with manual therapy at more than 20 outpatient facilities in the tri-county area.

Anti-inflammatory medication — Over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, and Aleve can often help reduce shoulder pain from minor sprains and aid in initial recovery.

Shoulder Arthroscopy — A shoulder arthroscopy is typically used to diagnose and treat shoulder injuries like a torn rotator cuff, a SLAP tear, or shoulder dislocation. During the procedure, a surgeon inserts a small camera (arthroscope) in your shoulder joint to examine or repair tissues in and around the shoulder joint.

Open Surgery — Large or complex tears in the shoulder may require open surgery, as well as major shoulder reconstructive work.

Ultrasound guided, minimally invasive procedureTenex is used to treat tendonitis and chronic pain in soft and hard tissue, using ultrasonic energy. It’s a precise option to remove only the damaged tendon tissue causing the pain. Performed using local anesthesia, a 3mm microincision and no stitches required.


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