Athletes and active people often suffer shoulder injuries. How can you know if your pain is a sign of a serious shoulder injury? Should you wait a few days and see if it gets better? Or should you see a doctor? In this Ask Dr. Geier video, I share some signs that your shoulder injury could be serious.

Popping out of place

Whether it’s the ball popping out of the socket (shoulder dislocation) or the collarbone at the breast bone (sternoclavicular dislocation), shoulder instability could need surgery.

Pain reaching overhead

Pain reaching overhead, such as combing your hair or reaching into a cabinet, is a common complaint for people with rotator cuff issues, such as shoulder impingement or a rotator cuff tear.

Pain reaching behind your back

Pain reaching behind your back, such as tucking in your shirt or putting on a seat belt, is another sign of impingement or possibly a rotator cuff injury.

Tennis player with a serious shoulder injury

Pain reaching out away from your body

Pain reaching out away from your body, such as reaching into a refrigerator to remove a carton of milk, can be a sign of impingement or possibly a rotator cuff injury.


Weakness separate from pain with overhead or other motions can signify a rotator cuff tear. Often it can be difficult by exam, though, to determine if pain is causing the shoulder to be weak, or if it’s weak from a muscle or tendon tear.

This list of signs of a serious shoulder injury is not comprehensive. If you have shoulder pain that isn’t getting better, or you are concerned and can’t do the activities you want to do, consider seeing a doctor or orthopedic surgeon.

Also read:
Signs your shoulder injury is serious
When will you return to normal after shoulder surgery?

Please remember, while I appreciate your questions, I cannot and will not offer specific medical advice by email, online, on my show, or in the comments at the end of these posts. My responses are meant to provide general medical information and education. Please consult your physician or health care provider for your specific medical concerns.

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