With many sports requiring overhead movements that can place the shoulder at the extreme end of its range of motion, it’s not surprising that shoulder injuries are so common among athletes. For instance, up to 50% of NCAA college football players have some history of shoulder injury, which comprises about 10-20% of total injuries in the sport. When looking at collegiate quarterbacks, one study found that shoulder injuries accounted for more than half of injuries among players in the position. When it comes to sport-related shoulder injuries, these are the three most common (and to complicate matters, they often co-occur):
1) SLAP (or labrum) tears: Superior (top) Labral tear from Anterior (front) to Posterior (back) tear is a term used to describe a torn piece of cartilage located along the rim of the socket. The labrum adds depth to the cup, which helps to stabilize the ball in the socket. Individuals with a SLAP tear will often report a loss of motion and power, a feeling like their shoulder could pop out of socket, and a deep ache that is hard to pinpoint when attempting overhead movements.
2) Shoulder instability or dislocation: With contact sports, there’s the opportunity for a collision that can dislocate the ball of the shoulder joint (the end of the humerus bone) from the shoulder socket. Because the muscles in the front of the shoulder tend to be larger and stronger, the dislocation will more often occur in that direction. Symptoms can include a severe, sudden initial pain followed by short bursts of pain as well as swelling and a noticeable deformity in the appearance of the shoulder.
3) Rotator cuff tears (RCTs): This is common in sports that require repetitive overhead motion like baseball (especially among pitchers), swimming, and tennis. Symptoms include a deep, hard to locate ache, weakness, and reduced range of motion (especially overhead or to the back).
In general, early/prompt care yields the best results. While there are instances when a prompt surgical procedure is warranted, treatment guidelines typically emphasize non-surgical therapies first with surgery only after all other options have been exhausted.
Chiropractic management of these conditions will often involve a multi-modal management approach that includes manual manipulation and mobilization to the shoulder’s multiple joints, the neck, and the mid back; specific shoulder exercise instruction; physical therapy modalities (ice, electrical stim, ultrasound, laser, pulsed magnetic field, and more); and nutritional recommendations.