hello world!
Published: July 6, 2023

Shoulder Strains or Sprains: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

The shoulder is supported by plenty of musculature that work together to keep it stable while allowing maximum flexibility. These soft tissues hold the joint in place by connecting it to other bones and muscles in the shoulder area. This includes:

  • Ligaments - these are connective tissues that attach a bone to another bone. 
  • Tendons - these are flexible, cord-like tissues connecting a muscle to a bone. 

Despite their tough nature, tendons and ligaments can still get damaged as a result of overuse, traumatic injury, or as a result of shoulder conditions. One example of a prevalent shoulder condition that affects the muscles is a strain or sprain.

Read below as we discuss the difference between strain and sprain and how our shoulder doctor in Miami treats such conditions.

What is the difference between a shoulder strain and shoulder sprain?

Strains and sprains are acute shoulder injuries that affect the muscle tissues of the shoulder. They also have the same causes, risk factors, and overlapping symptoms. The only difference between them is the specific muscle that got damaged:

  • A strain happens when the tough ligament bands in the shoulders suffer from tears or overstretching. 
  • A sprain occurs when the tendons in the shoulders sustain damage due to tearing in the overstretching of the muscle fibers.

Both strains and sprains can happen as a result of trauma on the shoulders. There’s usually a form of strong impact, pressure, or stress on the shoulders during such trauma. 

Some specific examples include falling on an outstretched arm, a forceful twist of the arm, or a direct impact to the shoulder. These traumatic injuries typically happen during car accidents or sports-related activities.

Additionally, there’s a huge risk of spraining or straining the shoulders when you engage in sports or work that require repetitive shoulder motions. Plus, you are also more susceptible to these injuries when you engage in physical activities without a proper warm-up.

How to tell if you sprained or strained your shoulder

An individual with a sprained or strained shoulder will experience sudden pain, tenderness, or soreness in the affected area. This typically happens during or after a physical activity involving the shoulder joints. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Aching and discomfort when moving
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness

Both sprains and strains will prevent you from using the shoulder joint to its full capacity. Therefore, there would be a limited range of motion, flexibility, and shoulder mobility.

One difference in their symptoms is the tearing sensation or popping sound in the shoulder joint that usually happens when there’s a sprained tendon. 

How do you test for a sprained shoulder?

When you go to the best Miami orthopedics facility — SFIO — an orthopedic specialist will conduct a physical exam to diagnose your condition. They will inspect the injured area and move the shoulders in different directions to evaluate the severity of the injury. 

Your doctor may also order one or more imaging tests to confirm the extent of the injury (if other structures are affected). This may include an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound.

Do shoulder strains heal on their own?

Most shoulder strains and sprains can heal without medical or hospital intervention. However, you should take care of the injury at home to improve healing and prevent further damage to the ligaments or tendons. This is only applicable to mild injuries.

For severe cases, it would be good to seek a doctor immediately, especially if severe pain or swelling does not improve after a day or two.

How to treat a strained shoulder?

RICE therapy is the gold standard for treating sprains and strains at home. It is an important non-surgical technique that you should practice during the first 24 to 72 hours of the injury to reduce symptoms and augment healing. 


Rest the injured shoulders by staying away from any strenuous physical activities, especially ones that put stress or weight on them. You should also avoid any tasks that exacerbate the pain and discomfort in the shoulder area.


Use a cold compress to ice the affected area for at least 10 minutes every two to three hours. This will help numb the pain and reduce the swelling by constricting the blood vessels. You should practice this for at least three days until the inflammation eases.


Apply compression to the sprained shoulder using an elastic medical bandage or compression sleeve to relieve the pain and swelling. Wrap it properly until it’s snug, but you should be careful not to wrap it too tight.

Physical therapy

Rehabilitative exercises can help reduce your symptoms and get you back to your normal activity level in no time. A series of gentle exercises, stretches, and activities can aid in strengthening the shoulders and bringing back their flexibility and normal range of motion. 

However, you should consult a physical therapist or orthopedic specialist first before doing any kind of exercise.

How long does it take for a shoulder strain to heal?

The healing time and recovery process for strains and sprains will depend on the extent of the injury. Mild to moderate conditions typically heal after a few days of RICE therapy, while others may take weeks and a series of physical therapy sessions before complete healing. Once your shoulder heals properly, then you may use it again to its full capacity. 

shoulder doctor miami

Where to find the best orthopedic facility in Miami?

Don’t let your sprained or strained shoulder lead to instability and poor joint function. Consult with the best Miami sports medicine orthopedic specialists at South Florida International Orthopaedics to get quality treatment and patient care. 

Besides strains and sprains, our board-certified physicians also specialize in managing other shoulder problems, such as:

Contact our Miami office (305) 233-0011 or Homestead office (305) 247-1701 now to schedule an appointment. You can also request an appointment here. 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Request Appointment

We recommend that you call the office for an appointment to help the office schedule flow as smoothly as possible for all of our patients. Our staff may be able to accommodate you with an appointment the same day. We will try very hard to work in patients that need to be seen quickly.
  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Hidden
    MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Hidden