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Common Shoulder Injuries in Basketball

Up next in our series on basketball injuries, let’s discuss shoulder injuries. Shoulder injuries among basketball players typically affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons rather than the bones. Shoulder injuries may start off as minor, but if a player ignores the pain and continues to play, it can turn into a more serious injury.

These are some of the most common shoulder injuries in basketball players.

Bursitis of the Shoulder

The bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that is located between the bones and tendons in the shoulder. It allows the tendons to glide smoothly when moving the shoulder. The bursa can become inflamed with repetitive motion, and the resulting swelling can narrow the space in the shoulder, causing the bursa and tendons to be pinched when moving the shoulder. This continues to irritate the bursa and cause pain.

Treatment: In order to treat bursitis, you need to reduce the inflammation. In many cases, resting the shoulder and using ice and anti-inflammatory medications are all that is needed to manage the symptoms. For more severe pain and swelling, cortisone shots may be administered to reduce inflammation. Bursitis rarely requires surgery.

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Basketball players are also prone to rotator cuff tendonitis due to frequent overhead arm motions when shooting the ball. Tendonitis occurs when the rotator cuff, a network of muscles and tendons that keeps the shoulder in its socket, becomes irritated with repetitive motion. Tendonitis can cause tenderness and pain in the shoulder, especially when lifting the arm overhead, as when shooting a basketball.

Treatment: In most cases, rotator cuff tendonitis can be treated without surgery, particularly with mild cases. Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and cortisone injections are commonly used to treat tendonitis. If symptoms persist even with treatment, surgery may be needed to fix the problem.

Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff can tear as the result of an acute injury, but most often occurs due to repetitive use. A tear may begin as a more minor rotator cuff injury and progress to a partial or full tear if a basketball player continues to play with the injury. This is why it is important to get the shoulder checked out if a basketball player is experiencing pain–continuing to play with a torn rotator cuff could make it worse. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers has notably played through injuries, and his recent rotator cuff tear was no exception.

Treatment: Although nonsurgical treatment can help with pain, a torn rotator cuff needs to be surgically repaired to restore full strength and function to the shoulder. This was ultimately the case with Bryant, who was selected for the NBA All Star team, but will have to sit out after recently having surgery to repair his rotator cuff. Rotator cuff tears can generally be repaired using arthroscopy, which is less invasive than traditional open surgery and can allow for a quicker recovery time. As for Bryant, he is expected to be out for 9 months while he recovers.

The NBA All Star game is coming up this weekend. Stay tuned this week for more information about common basketball injuries!