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Football: Shoulders take a big hit

By Adam Smith, M.D.

Lawn chairs and portable grills are out of storage. The hot summer is ending, and the cracking of shoulder pads can be heard on college and high school campuses all over West Tennessee. Football season is here.

Thousands of athletes throughout the state strap on helmets and shoulder pads each weekend and compete for their school. While the collisions these athletes endure are generally safe, hundreds of football players each year sustain shoulder injuries that may result in lost practice and game time. Let’s review some of the most common injuries.

Shoulder dislocation
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket surrounded by ligaments and tendons. The ball from the upper arm bone (humerus) sits on the socket (glenoid) much like a golf ball on a tee. If an athlete has a severe impact to the shoulder, the ligaments are stretched and injured, and the ball falls out of the socket.

Athletes who dislocate their shoulder will have significant pain, and will be unable to use the shoulder. Generally, medical personnel can place the shoulder back into socket without difficulty.

Treatment usually consists of significant time for recovery and includes rehabilitation. If the shoulder continues to be unstable, surgery may be needed to reconstruct the torn ligaments.

Shoulder separation
On top of the shoulder, the collarbone meets the shoulder blade, forming a small joint called the acromioclavicular joint. Falls onto the shoulder may cause this small joint to separate. This injury can be very painful, but is generally treated with a period of rest and immobilization, followed by rehabilitation.

Clavicle fractures
The clavicle or collar bone is the most commonly broken bone in the arm. Patients with a broken collarbone are generally treated with a period of immobilization in a sling or shoulder harness. Healing make take several weeks. Surgery may be indicated in patients with severe fractures.

Stingers A stinger is a nerve injury that occurs most commonly during a tackle as the player’s shoulder collides with the opposing player. If the neck is angled incorrectly, the nerves that go into the arm can be stretched, causing a burning pain that shoots down the shoulder and into the hand. Numbness and pain usually occur and can be severe. Treatment usually includes a period of rest and rehabilitation.

Many of these injuries cannot be avoided. However, preseason training to maximize rotator cuff and shoulder blade strength is generally recommended. Correct tackling form is important and allows the shoulder pads to take the brunt of the force of the hit.

The physicians at West Tennessee Bone & Joint Clinic all have expertise in the care of football injuries and provide immediate access to orthopedic care after Friday night football games in our “Fifth Quarter Clinic.” The Clinic is open during the high school football season after the games until midnight. Athletes should be accompanied by a parent or a coach.

Our goal at the clinic is to treat injuries soon after they occur so that the athlete can begin the process of treatment and rehabilitation, and return to the game as soon as possible.