Shoulder Ligaments and Tears

What are Shoulder Ligaments?

Shoulder ligaments are fibrous connective tissue bands that connect the bones of the shoulder joint to each other.

The main shoulder ligaments are:

  • Glenohumeral ligaments (GHL): These ligaments connect the bone of the upper arm to a part of the shoulder blade. It provides stability to the shoulder.
  • Coracoacromial ligaments (CAL): These ligaments connect two parts of the shoulder blade (acromion and coracoid process). Thickening of these ligaments can cause impingement syndrome.
  • Coracoclavicular ligaments (CCL): These ligaments connect the scapula to the clavicle. It is extremely strong and helps to keep your shoulder square.
  • Transverse humeral ligament (THL): This ligament helps keep the long head of the biceps in place.

Function of Shoulder Ligaments

The functions of the shoulder ligaments are:

  • Limiting movement of the bones within the joint
  • Stabilizing the shoulder
  • Preventing shoulder dislocation

Causes of Shoulder Ligament Tears

Shoulder ligament tears may occur due to:

  • Direct trauma to the shoulder
  • Repetitive overhead arm movements
  • Degenerative joint disease of the shoulder

Types of Shoulder Ligament Tears

Shoulder ligament tears may be classified as:

  • Grade 1: Microscopic or very small tear in the shoulder ligament
  • Grade 2: Partial or incomplete tear of the shoulder ligament
  • Grade 3: Complete tear of the shoulder ligament

Meet

Eric Berkman, M.D.

Symptoms of a Shoulder Ligament Tear

Common symptoms of a shoulder ligament tear are:

  • Shoulder pain and swelling
  • Increased pain with arm movement or shrugging your shoulder
  • Distortion in the normal contour of the shoulder

Diagnosis of Shoulder Ligament Tears

A diagnosis of a shoulder ligament tear will be based on

  • History of symptoms
  • Comparing your injured shoulder with the uninjured one
  • Physical examination of the shoulder, including range of motion and strength testing
  • X-ray to identify any bone abnormalities
  • MRI to identify soft tissue abnormalities

Treatment of Shoulder Ligament Tears

The treatment for your shoulder ligament tear will depend on the severity of the injury:

  • In case the shoulder ligament tear is microscopic or very small (Grade1), the condition can be treated with rest, ice and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication to relieve painful symptoms.
  • In case of a partially torn shoulder ligament tear (Grade 2), a sling may be worn for 3-4 weeks in addition to the above treatment measures to allow for proper healing of the shoulder ligament.
  • In case of a completely severed shoulder ligament tear (Grade 3), surgical repair may be required to reattach the ligament. Most often, the surgery can be performed arthroscopically through small poke-hole incisions in an outpatient setting and you can return home on the same day as the procedure.