Common shoulder injuries from ski accidents

Among the most common ski injuries are shoulder injuries. Here’s how and why they occur, how they’re treated, and what to expect after the injury.
When we take our first tentative trips down the bunny slope as we’re learning to ski, we show sensible caution and restraint. However, after we’ve been at it a few years, we start to assume we can swoosh down the slopes without being quite so careful and vigilant.

It’s a mistake to lose this attitude of caution, doctors say. They treat many patients who are older and more experienced at skiing and “should know better.”

One of the more common ski injuries, shoulder damage, occurs with worrisome frequency. Here are ways skiers injure their shoulders on the slopes.

Rotator cuff strain

Rotator cuff strains are the most common ski injury and often result from skiers who attempt jumps and other “hot dog” moves. The muscles of the rotator cuff support the shoulder joint, and when tendons surrounding those muscles swell, tendonitis often results. Overuse causes tendons to strain beyond their limits.

If your shoulder hurts and the pain worsens when you raise your arms – or if your movement is restricted – you may have a rotator cuff strain. You’ll be ordered by the doctor to ice the shoulder and will be prescribed analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications. With time, rest and perhaps some physical therapy to build strength and movement, you should heal well.

Clavicle (collarbone) fracture

Usually caused by falling, clavicle fractures occur when you tumble onto your outstretched hand. The momentum of your body causes force to travel up your arm and into your collarbone, and sometimes that force is enough to fracture the bone.

This very painful injury usually bruises and swells. You may feel pain not only in your collarbone, but also in your shoulder and down your arm. You’ll wear a sling to immobilize your shoulder joint, which usually puts pressure on your collarbone during movement. After it heals, you’ll probably undergo physical therapy to help with your range of movement. Icing the area also helps reduce swelling.

Dislocated shoulder

When this injury occurs, you’ll certainly know it. Incredibly painful, a dislocated shoulder will get your attention in a big way. The shoulder is easier to dislocate than other joints in your body since the shoulder socket isn’t as deep as others, like the hip. Significant impact -- collisions and falls, for instance -- will cause a shoulder dislocation.

This extreme pain could extend from your shoulder into your back and arms. Any doctor will immediately recognize a dislocated shoulder from its rounded (instead of squared-off) appearance. Some swelling and bruising will also occur. He or she will put the ball of the shoulder joint back into the socket and immobilize the area with a sling.

You won’t be skiing for awhile after a shoulder dislocation, as the soft tissue around the shoulder will be damaged and require significant rest. You’ll thank yourself later if you engage in physical therapy to strengthen your muscles and improve your range of motion.

Common shoulder injuries from ski accidents
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