Staying Active as You Age: Understanding Common Shoulder Injuries and Conditions

Published May 31, 2024

Staying active is crucial for maintaining health and vitality as we age. However, it’s important to be aware of potential injuries that can arise, particularly in areas of the body that are often used but can be easily overlooked—like the shoulders. In this article, we'll explore common shoulder injuries and conditions, how they occur, and what you can do to prevent and manage them. This information will help you stay active and healthy while enjoying your favorite activities.

Senior adult shoulder pain

Why is shoulder health important?

Our shoulders are the most mobile joints in the human body, allowing for a wide range of movements. This mobility, including 360° circumduction in the sagittal plane, is crucial for many activities, from playing sports to physical labor. However, it also makes the shoulder susceptible to various injuries and conditions, especially as we age. Understanding these potential issues can help you take proactive steps to protect your shoulders and maintain an active lifestyle.

Common Shoulder Injuries and Conditions

Some of the most common shoulder injuries and conditions that older adults might encounter are rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement syndrome, frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis), shoulder dislocation and instability, glenoid labrum tears, bursitis, SLAP tears, and acromioclavicular (AC) joint injuries. Let's take a closer look at the symptoms, causes, prevention tips, and treatment options for each condition.

Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. A tear can occur due to acute injury or chronic degeneration.

  • Symptoms: Pain, especially at night or when lifting the arm, weakness, and limited range of motion.

  • Causes: Repetitive overhead activities, heavy lifting, or a sudden injury.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Strengthening shoulder muscles, avoiding repetitive overhead activities, and practicing proper lifting techniques. Treatment may include physical therapy or surgery in severe cases.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

This occurs when the rotator cuff tendons are compressed during shoulder movements.

  • Symptoms: Pain and difficulty raising the arm, especially overhead, and a feeling of weakness.

  • Causes: Repetitive overhead movements, anatomical abnormalities, or inflammation.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Avoiding repetitive overhead motions, using proper form during activities, and anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy can also help.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder is characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint.

  • Symptoms: Gradual onset of pain, followed by increasing stiffness, and eventually a decrease in pain with severe limitation in motion.

  • Causes: Often idiopathic but can be associated with diabetes, immobilization after an injury or surgery.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Keeping the shoulder moving after an injury or surgery to prevent stiffness. Treatment involves physical therapy and sometimes injections to reduce inflammation.

Shoulder Dislocation

This occurs when the head of the humerus is forced out of the shoulder socket.

  • Symptoms: Severe pain, inability to move the shoulder, visible deformity.

  • Causes: Trauma from falls, sports injuries, or accidents.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Strengthening shoulder and surrounding muscles to provide stability, avoiding high-risk activities. Treatment includes reduction (putting the joint back in place) and rehabilitation.

Shoulder Instability

A condition where the shoulder frequently slips out of place, either partially (subluxation) or completely (dislocation).

  • Symptoms: Repeated dislocations, pain, and a feeling of the shoulder being loose or slipping.

  • Causes: Traumatic injury, repetitive strain, or congenital conditions.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Strengthening exercises, avoiding activities that put the shoulder at risk, and sometimes surgical intervention to stabilize the joint.

Glenoid Labrum Tear

The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket and helps stabilize the joint. Tears can occur from injury or overuse.

  • Symptoms: Pain, a catching or locking sensation, and instability.

  • Causes: Trauma, repetitive shoulder motion, or degeneration.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Avoiding repetitive strain on the shoulder, proper technique in activities. Treatment often includes physical therapy or arthroscopic surgery.


Inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between shoulder structures.

  • Symptoms: Pain, tenderness, and swelling.

  • Causes: Repetitive motion, prolonged pressure, or injury.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Rest, avoiding activities that aggravate the condition, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy.

SLAP Tears (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior)

A specific type of labral tear that occurs at the top of the labrum where the biceps tendon attaches.

  • Symptoms: Pain with overhead movements, a clicking or popping sound, and weakness.

  • Causes: Repetitive overhead activities, acute trauma, or degenerative changes.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Avoiding repetitive overhead activities, using proper technique in sports and exercises. Treatment may include physical therapy or surgery.

Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Injury

Injuries to the joint where the collarbone meets the highest point of the shoulder blade (acromion).

  • Symptoms: Pain at the top of the shoulder, swelling, and limited movement.

  • Causes: Trauma, such as a fall onto the shoulder, or overuse.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Strengthening shoulder muscles, avoiding high-risk activities, and using protective gear. Treatment often involves rest, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery.


Inflammation of the shoulder tendons, often affecting the rotator cuff or biceps tendon.

  • Symptoms: Pain, especially with movement, and tenderness.

  • Causes: Overuse, repetitive motion, or aging.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Modifying activities to avoid overuse, strengthening exercises, and anti-inflammatory medications.


Inflammation of the shoulder joint, commonly osteoarthritis, but can also include rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Symptoms: Pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.

  • Causes: Degenerative changes, autoimmune conditions, or previous injury.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and medications to manage symptoms. In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be necessary.


Breaks in the bones of the shoulder, including the clavicle (collarbone), humerus (upper arm bone), and scapula (shoulder blade).

  • Symptoms: Severe pain, swelling, bruising, and inability to move the shoulder.

  • Causes: Trauma from falls, sports injuries, or accidents.

  • Prevention & Treatment: Ensuring good bone health through diet and exercise, using protective gear during high-risk activities. Treatment often involves immobilization and, in some cases, surgery.

Tips for Preventing Shoulder Injuries

As you stay active, here are some tips to help prevent shoulder injuries:

  1. Warm Up and Cool Down: Always warm up before engaging in physical activity and cool down afterward to prepare your muscles and tendons for exercise and reduce stiffness.

  2. Strengthening Exercises: Incorporate shoulder-strengthening exercises into your routine to build muscle support around the joint.

  3. Flexibility Training: Stretch regularly to maintain flexibility and range of motion in your shoulders.

  4. Proper Technique: Use proper techniques in sports and exercises to avoid undue stress on your shoulders.

  5. Rest and Recovery: Allow time for rest and recovery, especially if you engage in repetitive activities.

  6. Ergonomics: Pay attention to ergonomics in daily activities, such as adjusting your workspace to prevent strain.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Staying active as you age is vital for maintaining health and quality of life, but it’s equally important to be aware of common shoulder injuries and conditions. By understanding the potential risks and taking proactive steps to protect your shoulders, you can continue to enjoy an active and fulfilling lifestyle. Remember, your shoulders are essential for many activities, so treat them with care and attention. If you experience persistent pain, weakness, or limited range of motion in your shoulder, it's important to seek medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent further damage and help you return to your activities more quickly.

If you ever encounter shoulder pain or discomfort, don't hesitate to contact the shoulder specialists at CAO for personalized advice and treatment. Stay active, stay healthy, and keep those shoulders strong!