Similar to other orthopedic injuries, diagnosing a shoulder injury involves several steps. First a medical history is taken, to help your provider understand any previous conditions or injuries that might affect your current condition.
During the medical history, your provider will ask how long your symptoms have been present and what problems you’re having using your shoulder. Your provider will also ask about any injury or condition that might be causing the problem.
During the physical examination your provider will often bend, straighten, rotate, or press on your shoulder to feel for injury, and to determine how well the shoulder moves and where the pain is located.
Depending on the findings of the medical history and physical exam, your provider may use one or more diagnostic tests to more accurately determine the nature of your shoulder problem. Some of the more commonly used tests include X-rays, MRI’s, and arthrograms. Each of these tests has its primary use. X-rays identify bone injuries. MRI’s are very effective at showing injuries to soft tissues such as cartilage and ligaments, and arthrograms allow the structures of the shoulder to be observed while in motion.
These tests may be ordered immediately after the injury or your provider may recommend waiting until after the initial swelling and bruising have resolved. Your provider will discuss the various tests with you, and suggest those that are most appropriate for your condition.