The human shoulder is an intricate system of bones, joints, connective tissues and muscles. It derives its stability from a group of four small muscles (known as the rotator cuff) and another five muscles that stabilize the scapula (shoulder blade) and guide the entire shoulder joint along the rib cage during arm motions. Experts estimate the shoulder can move to 1,600 different positions.
Shoulder injuries are the second most common injury at mountain resorts (second only to knees).
The most common cause is falling on an outstretched arm, usually while skiing or riding. Other more routine causes can happen anywhere:
• Strenuous repetitive use
• Repetitive overhead reaching or lifting
• Pulling or “yanking” on an object (e.g. an engine starter cord)
• Blow to the top of the shoulder
• Age-related degeneration of the surrounding soft tissues.
While both conservative (PT, injections) and surgical treatments are effective, shoulder injuries often involve significant time away from the slopes to heal — averaging 30 days!
• Is the shoulder stiff or painful?
• Do overhead activities cause discomfort?
• Can you rotate your arm in all the normal positions?
• Do you lack the strength in your shoulder to carry out your daily activities?
• Does it feel like your shoulder could pop out or is sliding forward in the socket?
• Do you have problems sleeping at night due to shoulder pain?
• Understand the common causes for shoulder injuries and what puts you at risk in your daily routine.
• Listen to your shoulders — get things checked out if you’re experiencing any warning signs/pain issues. Past injuries or even new injuries are often ignored, leading to continued pain and damaging wear and tear.
• Nutrition and Hydration — Give your whole body the fuel it needs to react quickly when under pressure and to recover more easily when taken to its limits.
• Conditioning — get in shape for the season and maintain that shape throughout the season by getting involved in your mountain’s wellness program.
- Most important: Focus on your core so it can provide a stable and strong foundation for the shoulder to work from. Your core also provides the kinetic chain for overhead activities, allowing the trunk muscles to transfer energy and momentum to the shoulder for overhead activities. If the core is not stable, extra loading and strain is passed on to the shoulder joint.
- Balance upper-body strength workouts — don’t focus just on those muscles you can see in the mirror (pecs, front deltoids, six pack, etc.). The back muscles are often overlooked and forgetting about these can lead to an imbalance that can lead to a poorly performing shoulder.
• Keep your equipment in good condition and use solid technique to ski/ride in control.
• Avoid postures where you are hunched over or the shoulders are rounded over. These postures can compress the joint and position the shoulder for pain.