The present prospective study was performed on 89 competitive sportsmen (league players of handball, basketball, volleyball and water polo). The evaluation was based on information obtained from a review of training methods, a standardised anamnestic, physical and sonographic examination directed at pain, function, flexibility and all signs of impingement and instability of the shoulder counted in a score. The incidence of shoulder pain, which handicapped during training and play within the last 6 months was for water polo 60%, handball 40%, volleyball 25% and basketball 3.5%. Analysing these problems we found severe problems predominantly in handball, fewer in water polo or volleyball. According to data obtained from sports with throwing activity we found a high incidence of shoulder disorders. Using basketball players as a control group with less throwing activity our results would suggest that this mechanism seems to be the most important. The high incidence of severe disorders in handball players is additionally caused by traumatic injuries. Ultrasonography shows predominantly incomplete tears of the deep surface of the supraspinatus tendon near to the insertion with exception of the basketball players. Only in 5 shoulders (2.8%) we found the coincidence of clear signs of instability and subacromial pathology. The term "instability impingement" has not proved to be very helpful and has turned out to be far too diffuse to establish a diagnosis.