Snowboarding and the shoulder

Snowboarding shoulder injuryAs avid snowboarders around the globe gear up for the Snowboarding World Championships later this month, competitors will be balancing injury prevention with maximising performance.

Snowboarding shoulder injuries are a common risk for professional snowboarders due to the way the body is positioned. In skiing, the majority of pressure is placed onto the lower body, as the knees twist and help manoeuvre the skier around the mountain. With snowboarding however, the feet are strapped onto the board, and it’s the upper body that’s largely responsible for manoeuvring around the course. Not only that, but if the snowboarder loses their balance and falls, it’s the upper body that’s going to take the full force of the fall.

Here we’ll look at the most common shoulder injuries in snowboarding and what, if anything, can be done to prevent them.

How common are shoulder related injuries in snowboarding?

It’s estimated that shoulder injuries account for between 8% to 16% of all snowboarding injuries. However, these figures are taken from the ski medical clinic so the actual rate of injury could be much higher as most snowboarders visit their local physician to report any issues. It’s also likely these figures will increase over coming years, as snowboarding is witnessing a boom in popularity, with more people taking up the sport each year.

It’s also interesting to note that beginners have a higher injury risk than the more advanced snowboarders who tend to use much riskier and more difficult manoeuvres. Approximately a quarter of injuries occur during a person’s first experience of snowboarding and that’s because of the increased risk of falls.

What shoulder injuries are most commonly experienced by snowboarders?

So, as a snowboarder which shoulder injuries are you most at risk of developing? The most common include:

Rotator cuff injuries: The rotator cuff is made up of several tendons and muscles surrounding the joint of the shoulder. Helping to keep the shoulder in place, this large group of muscles and tendons is typically the most vulnerable to injury during a snowboarding fall. Rotator cuff injuries vary significantly in severity, with most presenting as a dull ache or severe pain in the affected area.

Gleno-humeral dislocations: While dislocations aren’t as common as rotator cuff injuries, they can occur after a nasty fall. The patient may be unable to move the arm away from its current position and significant pain will usually be felt.

Clavicle fractures: This is a very common shoulder injury, involving the collarbone – one of the main bones within the shoulder. Treatment for this type of injury is usually straightforward, with the arm requiring a sling while the fracture heals. However, in some cases surgery may be required.

Acromioclavicular separations: If you fall directly onto the shoulder, there’s a risk of acromioclavicular separation. This is where the clavicle separates away from the scapula. The majority of the time this type of injury can be treated without surgery, though it depends upon its severity.

So, can these injuries be prevented? Unfortunately, due to the high risk of falls in snowboarding, it’s impossible to completely prevent shoulder injury. However, making sure you use the latest equipment and you use the proper techniques while out on the slopes, will help to reduce your chances of injury.

Overall, most importantly is that you seek help from a shoulder specialist if you suspect you’re developed a snowboarding related shoulder injury. The earlier you get it looked at, the easier it will be to treat.