Dislocated Shoulder

Although most skiing injuries occur in the lower half of the body, shoulder injuries are also quite common. Shoulder problems are usually caused by acute injuries sustained from a sudden forceful blow, especially during a fall. Statistically, male skiers tend to suffer from shoulder injuries more than female skiers and as you'd expect, beginners are more likely sustain shoulder injuries because they don't have as much control as experienced skiers and fall over more often.

The Shoulder Joint Explained

The shoulder joint is where the humerus (upper arm bone) meets the scapula (shoulder blade). It is made up of 3 bones: the clavicle (collar bone), scapula and humerus. It is a ball and socket joint and is the most mobile joint in the body. Because of this it is also a very unstable joint and quite vulnerable to becoming dislocated.

What Happens When the Shoulder Joint is Dislocated?

A dislocation occurs when the top part of the humerus is pulled out of its usual alignment with the shoulder joint due to a traumatic blow to the shoulder. It is most likely to happen during skiing when the skier uses their hand to cushion the blow of a heavy fall. If the body twists around the outstretched hand, the twisting motion is carried up to the shoulder joint. If the motion is very forceful, the shoulder joint is pulled out of position.  Most dislocations push the joint in front of its normal position (anterior dislocation). It is quite rare for the shoulder joint to be forced backwards (posterior dislocation). Unfortunately, once your shoulder has been dislocated, it is 85% more likely to happen again because the shoulder joint suffers structural damage that it will never fully recover from. It will take less force for the shoulder to become dislocated again.

What Does a Dislocated Shoulder Feel Like?

It will be incredibly painful and you will be unable to move your shoulder. The usually rounded appearance of the shoulder will look more angular and you will probably want to keep your arm immobilised against your chest.

What Can You Do to Prevent a Dislocation?

Pre-season Precautions

Because acute injuries like dislocations happen when you fall unexpectedly on the slope, they can be very difficult to prevent. However, there are certain measures you can take before the skiing season starts to protect yourself from shoulder injuries. Having lessons with a qualified instructor will improve your technique, making you less likely to fall over. Increasing your core muscle strength will also make you sturdier on your feet. It is also a very good idea to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles (the small muscles around the shoulder joint), especially if you have dislocated your shoulder in the past.

When You're Skiing

Try to ski at quieter times because obviously if the piste isn't too overcrowded there is less chance of another skier colliding with you or getting in your way and causing you to fall over and damage your shoulder. Also, know your limits – don't attempt to tackle a slope that is too advanced for you because you will be more likely to fall.

Dealing with a Dislocated Shoulder

You should go to hospital and have the shoulder should be put back into position as quickly as possible. The longer it is dislocated, the harder it will be to put back in because muscle spasms set in. After the shoulder has been put back in place, you should wear a sling for about 3 weeks to keep it immobilised and raising your arm above your head should be avoided for 6 weeks following a dislocation.  A course of physiotherapy should be undertaken to gradually rebuild the strength of your shoulder muscles before you start skiing again.

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