Sports and common shoulder injuries

Many winter and spring sports can take a toll on shoulders. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons most shoulder problems involve the muscles, ligaments and tendons rather than the shoulder bones. Rick Jusko, PT, owner/director of Seattle Hill Physical Therapy, says knowing the type of injury most common to your sport and strengthening shoulder muscles can help better prepare you for season-long enjoyment as well as prevent many shoulder injuries.


Most shoulder problems involve the muscles, ligaments and tendons rather than the shoulder bones. (Illustration courtesy of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)

  • AC Joint Sprain
    This injury can often occur when you fall or land on the top of the shoulder. This is common for skiers and snowboarders who do not have time to protect themselves with their hands and land downhill, shoulder first.  This is also a common hockey injury because the hands are holding the stick and shoulder takes the brunt of the fall. The AC joint is where the Acromion, or shoulder blade, is joined to the tip of the Clavicle, or collarbone. Landing hard, headfirst, on the shoulder can strain or tear the ligaments that connect the two bones or even result in a fracture. Maintaining an appropriate program of stretching and warm-ups before activity, together with muscle strengthening can guard against such injuries. Learning suitable falling techniques can also help reduce the damaging impact of landing on the shoulder.
  • Impingement injuries Rubbing shoulder muscles against the acromion can cause swelling and is a common source of pain for swimmers, basketball and volleyball players. Golfers can experience pain during the height of the backswing. In each of these sports correct technique can both improve your stroke or shot, and reduce the friction-causing pain.
  • Rotator cuff strains Injuries to the muscles and tendons that make up the rotator cuff often occur with throwing or racket sports. Throwing, hitting or racket sports (overhead athletics) often cause injury to the supraspinatus, one of the muscles that make up the rotator cuff. It helps stabilize the shoulder and undergoes tremendous strain during the final phase of the throwing motion as the arm decelerates after releasing the ball. Similarly, tennis players stress rotator cuff components during the serve, overhead, backhand or forehand.  Exercises that emphasize both internal and external rotation of the arm and shoulder blade stability should be a regular part of your warm-up routine. Special emphasis should be on the stability of the shoulder blade as this is the base that the rotator cuff must work from.

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