When you hear the phrase “tennis injury,” the first—and perhaps the only—injury that comes to mind is probably lateral epicondylitis, better known as tennis elbow. And while this is a common injury, it’s far from the only problem that can afflict tennis players.
It may not be as rough-and-tumble as football or soccer, but tennis, like all sports, has the potential to cause injuries. Not only does it involve a great deal of repetitive motion, it puts the shoulder under tremendous strain. Serving and hitting overhand strokes require a great deal of force and are common causes of tennis related shoulder pain.
While we all experience sore muscles or other minor aches and pains occasionally after sports or exercise, shoulder pain after playing tennis can be an indication of an overuse or traumatic injury. Here’s a look at some of the common causes of tennis related shoulder pain from Dr. Francis Mendoza, an NYC-based orthopaedic shoulder surgeon specializing in sports injuries.
Common Causes of Tennis Related Shoulder Pain
Labral Injuries: The shoulder joint is complex. It involves three separate bones, multiple muscles, and many different types of connective tissue. The socket of the joint (where the “ball” of your arm bone connects) is surrounded by a layer of fibrous tissue called the labrum. This both cushions and deepens the socket. Traumatic injuries or even repetitive overhead movements can tear the labrum, leading to pain, limited range of motion and instability of the joint.
Shoulder Impingement: Shoulder impingement is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. It happens when the front of the shoulder blade rubs against the rotator cuff—the group of muscles and tendons that allow you to lift and rotate your arm—when you raise your arm. Impingement can also be due to bursitis, or inflammation of the bursa, which acts as a cushion between the rotator cuff and the acromion. Symptoms of impingement usually come on gradually and worsen over time. They include shoulder pain, which worsens when you raise your arm, and swelling in the front of the shoulder. As the condition worsens, pain increases and your shoulder becomes stiff; if untreated, your range of motion becomes limited and your shoulder may eventually become “frozen.”
Rotator Cuff Tendonitis: Any condition that ends in “itis” involves inflammation, and rotator cuff tendonitis is exactly what it sounds like—inflammation of the tendons of your rotator cuff. It’s a chronic overuse injury and is usually the result of repetitive overhead motions. It is also a common cause of tennis related shoulder pain, resulting in pain at the point of the shoulder and the upper, outer arm; this pain is often worse when reaching behind you or lying on the affected shoulder. You may also hear a clicking sound when you raise your arm.
Torn Rotator Cuff: Rotator cuff tears are one of the more serious injuries that can cause tennis related shoulder pain. They can occur due to trauma, or may be the result of chronic overuse, when one of the rotator cuff tendons becomes partially or even completely torn. Symptoms include pain when raising or lowering your arm, weakness in your arm and shoulder, and even muscle atrophy. Symptoms may develop gradually, or appear suddenly if the injury is the result of trauma.
Separated Shoulder: The shoulder is made up of three bones—the clavicle, or collarbone; the scapula, or shoulder blade; and the humerus, the upper arm bone—which are connected by three ligaments. A separated shoulder is a sprain of this three-way joint, and happens when one or more of the ligaments gets stretched or torn. A severe sprain can cause the ligaments to tear and allow the clavicle to separate and dislocate, hence the term separated shoulder. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may experience mild to severe pain, swelling and reduced range of motion in your arm. If the injury is severe and bones have dislocated, your shoulder may be visibly deformed.
Get Treatment for Tennis Injuries of the Shoulder in NYC
There are many possible causes of tennis related shoulder pain, and a proper examination with an orthopaedic physician specializing in the shoulder is the first step to determining the cause and learning about your treatment options. Ongoing pain not only puts a damper on your game, it can lead to bigger problems if left untreated. If you’re suffering from tennis related shoulder pain, contact our office today for a consultation.