Common Rear Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body, allowing for reaching up behind and across the body. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this mobility comes at a price, with instability at the shoulder resulting in many injuries. Most common injuries to the rear of the shoulder are treated conservatively, enabling patients to quickly return to their previous level of function.

Close up of an adult male raising his arms Credit: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images

Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is the partial or complete tearing of muscle fibers. In the rear of the shoulder, most muscle strains occur when the arm is decelerating from a forceful motion, such as throwing a ball, serving in tennis or spiking a volleyball. With a muscle strain, the patient will generally describe immediate pain that will vary in severity depending on the extent of the strain. The patient should refrain from activities that increase pain. Icing the area will control the degree of swelling and pain following the injury. The patient may benefit from physical therapy during the early stages of healing, and should be able to return to activity in two to six weeks.


Tendons are the tissue that attaches muscles to bones. Any inflammation of the tendon is referred to as tendinitis. Tendinitis in the rear of the shoulder generally results from repetitive overuse or over training. Sports requiring overhead motions, such as throwing, tennis and swimming, are more likely to result in posterior shoulder tendinitis. Tendinitis generally responds well to conservative treatment. The patient should modify activities to avoid the motions that cause symptoms. To prevent a recurrence of the injury, it may be helpful to strengthen the area once symptoms have subsided.


Radiculopathy is pain that is referred, or sent, to an area of the body from a different body area. Pain located in the rear of the shoulder may be due to an irritation of the nerves where they leave the spinal column in the neck or upper back. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, cervical spine disorders can often be mistaken as shoulder injuries. This irritation may be due to the spinal disc pressing against the nerve, as in the case of a bulging or herniated disc, or it may be due to degeneration of the spine and a decrease in the amount of space between discs.

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