What Shoulder Injuries Occur in Kids?

Shoulder injuries are common in children and adolescents, particularly in children who are very active and in those who participate in organized sports. Athletes in sports involving overhead activity such as baseball, volleyball and swimming are exceptionally prone to shoulder injury.

Acute Injuries

Injuries that occur as a result of one particular traumatic episode are referred to as acute injuries. In skeletally immature children, acute injuries can occur at the area of growth in the bone, otherwise known as the growth plate. For example, growth plate fractures in the shoulder can occur when a child or adolescent falls on the shoulder or the outstretched hand. These fractures commonly involve the upper part of the humerus bone or the clavicle. The growth plate is more commonly injured in children because the growing cartilage/bone often is the weakest structure compared to the surrounding shoulder ligaments. Most growth plate fractures heal without complications, but these injuries often require special attention to avoid future problems with growth.

Other examples of acute injuries to the shoulder include a shoulder dislocation or a shoulder separation (AC Sprain). Either of these two injuries can occur with a blow to the shoulder or with a fall on the outstretched arm. Shoulder dislocations can result in a cartilage tear in the shoulder, otherwise known as a labrum tear.

Overuse Injuries

Injuries that occur over time because of repetitive activity are known as overuse injuries. For example, chronic shoulder pain that occurs with throwing in baseball players may be related to overuse and inflammation around the growth plate in the upper part of the humerus bone. This injury is referred to as Little League Shoulder, or proximal humeral epiphysiolysis. Overuse injury also can occur in the soft-tissues of the shoulder (tendons, ligaments, capsule, etc.) instead of in the growth plate. Depending on the symptoms, this injury may be referred to as rotator cuff tendonitis or impingement. Some athletes suffer from recurrent shoulder instability that interferes with their ability to continue with their sport.

Shoulder Pain Symptoms

Pain and swelling present after an acute trauma indicate a musculoskeletal injury. The pain may be generalized to the area or be specific to one particular location. Severe pain, numbness, tingling, and restriction of motion may indicate more serious injury. Chronic (or overuse) injury may present more gradually, with more vague complaints of pain that is made worse with overhead activity. Overhead athletes may notice a decline in their performance due to the pain.

When should my child see a doctor?

Consulting an orthopedic specialist is warranted when pain, swelling, and trouble using the arm persist despite home treatment such as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). If your child is unable to return to activities or sports, or if he has joint swelling, locking or instability, seeking professional assistance is essential. Consulting a pediatric orthopedic professional is especially important if your injured child is still growing. Injuries that occur near the growth plate can be challenging to recognize and appropriate treatment is necessary to ensure adequate management and healing. Sports medicine specialists are able to make specific recommendations about rehabilitating the injury and safely returning to activity and sports.

What should I expect at my appointment?

Rocky Mountain Pediatric OrthoONE offers fellowship-trained physicians that specialize in the treatment of the wide range of injuries that affect school-aged athletes. Our dedicated team will develop a detailed treatment plan that includes a rehabilitation program focused on returning your child to play safely. When surgery is necessary, our fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic surgeons will discuss specialized, age-appropriate and minimally invasive surgical options.

Services available at the Youth Sports Medicine Institute

  • Surgical and non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal injuries/sports injuries
  • Full-spectrum orthopedic care (complex fractures, ligament and cartilage trauma/injury, limb deformity, hand/upper extremity conditions, spine and hip disease/conditions)
  • State-of-the-art X-ray (new technology with low-dose radiation and enhanced clinical imaging)
  • Physical therapy and sports performance facility
  • Comprehensive concussion management program
  • Sports nutrition consultation

In addition, our Institute offers our patients full access to other specialists at RMHC.