Most Common Football-Related Shoulder Injuries
The high contact involved in football makes it one of the most physically demanding and taxing sports in the US today. The force players endure when being tackled by their opponents makes them prone to injuries at any part of the body. Among these injuries, shoulder injuries are considered some of the most common seen by football players.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the number of football-related shoulder injuries every year is significant. High school football accounts for approximately 480,000 shoulder injuries yearly, while 49.7% of athletes at the 2004 NFL combine reported having a shoulder injury at some point during their previous playing career. 34% of those injuries required surgery at the time.
In order to stay healthy this football season, it’s best to stay informed on the most common injuries football players typically suffer. Learn more about the following:
Various parts that make up the shoulder
Different shoulder injuries and causes
How to know if you’re dealing with a shoulder injury
What to do if you’re experiencing shoulder pain
How to prevent shoulder injuries
What makes up the shoulder?
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint made up of two main bones, the humerus - located on the end of the upper arm bone, and the scapula - or the shoulder blade. The humerus is round and fits within a socket in the scapula.
While the hip ball and socket joint has a very deep socket, the shoulder socket is shallow. This shallow shape makes the shoulder more susceptible to dislocation and other injuries.
The labrum is a ring of soft tissue that surrounds this socket. Ligaments connect the different bones in the shoulder and are attached at the labrum, while the tendons connect the bones to surrounding muscle. The muscles surrounding the shoulder joint include the rotator cuff and the deltoid and serve the purpose of stabilizing the joint.
Common Shoulder Injuries
Shoulder instability is a term that refers to the shoulder’s inability to keep the ball within the socket. When the joint is loose, it slides around and can come partially or completely out of place.
Partial shoulder instability is known as shoulder subluxation. Complete shoulder instability is when the injury is referred to as a dislocation. In a dislocation, the ball’s position is up and outside the labrum, rather than within it.
Shoulder instability is also classified by location - injuries are either anterior or posterior. Direct or indirect trauma can attribute to both anterior and posterior instability.
Anterior: An injury that is most commonly the result of an anterior force directed to the abducted and externally rotated arm.
Posterior: An injury that is most commonly due to a direct blow to the anterior shoulder or to the forward flexed arm.
The previously mentioned study also cites that in the NFL, anterior instability made up roughly 21% of all shoulder instability incidents, while posterior instability accounted for 4%.
SLAP is an acronym for superior labral tear from anterior to posterior. This injury occurs when the top, or superior, section of the labrum is injured. This area is where the biceps tendon attaches to the labrum, and the tear occurs in the front and the back of the attachment point. The biceps tendon is at times involved in this injury.
Athletes involved in sports that require repetitive overhead motions, such as throwing a football, are at risk of experiencing labrum tears.
Rotator Cuff Injury
There are four tendons that attach the muscles from the shoulder blade and ribs to the humerus. These tendons help to rotate the arm within its socket, while the sleeve of the tendons is called the rotator cuff.
Within the rotator cuff, there are many tendons moving inside of a tight space. If the shoulder is forced beyond its natural range of motion, these tendons are also forced outside their limits. And when they collide with the acromion or the ligament at the front of the shoulder, the friction is painful. It’s known as impingement syndrome, and the friction causes the rotator cuff to swell.
Common rotator cuff injuries include the following:
Rotator Cuff Tendonitis: When a single tendon is inflamed, there will be pain only during specific movements - which is when the muscle pulls against the tendon being used.
Rotator Cuff Tear: Tears of the rotator cuff occur from several different injuries. An inflamed rotator cuff due to overuse can lead to a tear. During sports, falls on an outstretched arm or collisions can crush the tendons. Reaching repetitively overhead, such as throwing a football, can also lead to a rotator cuff tear.
Shoulder Tendinitis: Shoulder bursitis and tendonitis cause shoulder pain and stiffness from inflammation. The inflammation can spread to the pocket of fluid which lubricates the rotator cuff tendons, causing bursitis. This shoulder pain typically worsens at night.
Identifying Symptoms & Getting Treatment
Because these injuries often occur due to trauma, it’s likely you’ll know about a shoulder injury immediately. However, there are cases where a shoulder injury goes unidentified and therefore, untreated. So if you’re dealing with any type of shoulder pain, especially if it gets worse at night or hurts as you raise your arm up or reach forward, it’s important to see a physician.
A physician will examine your arm and may perform an X-Ray to reach a diagnosis. Your treatment options will depend on the severity of the injury.
Non-surgical treatments: Non-surgical treatments include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling, and physical therapy, involving specific exercises to restore movement and strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulder joint.
Surgical treatments: In more serious cases, surgery is necessary. The injury may either be at a point that it can only be treated by surgical intervention, or if your injury is not responding to non-surgical methods.
Preventing Shoulder Injuries During Football Season
Avoiding these common shoulder injuries isn’t always feasible in a contact sport like football, but there are preventative measures that athletes can take.
Wear protective equipment: Having protective equipment that fits properly is crucial in football. This plastic protecting absorbs shock from collisions, so your bones receive less impact. Without this equipment, it’s more likely that the bones will break.
Training: Jumping into a sport full time is never a good idea, as it’s a shock to your body. Gradually allow your body to adjust to the sport by easing into less strenuous practices and more relaxed preseason games. This will strengthen your shoulder muscles a little at a time while you’re throwing passes.
Sports injuries aren’t always preventable, but being prepared and informed can help. Visit our shoulder specialty page for more information on how to deal with shoulder injuries.