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Reduce Risk of Football Shoulder Injuries

As perhaps the most consistently violent spectator sport, it should be no surprise that football is the most likely sport to result in injury. The sport is played at a high speed among high-strength individuals, and every play ends with at least one violent collision. The NCAA estimates the overall (practice and games combined) injury rate of football at 8.1 per 1,000 exposures.

Upper limb injuries account for 16.9% of these. Although less common than lower limb injuries such as knee and ankle sprains, upper body injuries are still a serious concern amongst football players. In this article, we look at the most common types of shoulder injuries players must prepare themselves for and try to make a few suggestions as to how they might be prevented.

Shoulder Separation

Shoulder injuries are quite common in most contact sports, and football is no exception. A shoulder separation is a common, generally milder, injury of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. In this injury, the ligaments connecting the shoulder blade to the collarbone tear, leaving those particular bones separated. This severely limits shoulder joint movement and can sideline a player for anywhere from just a few weeks up to a few months based on the severity of the injury (whether a sprain or a full separation). It typically occurs during a hard collision directly impacting the shoulder or due to an awkward fall (such as a receiver landing on his shoulder after an acrobatic catch).

Dislocated Shoulder

A more serious injury that most people have heard of (if only due to the fairly gruesome images that the name conjures) is the dislocated shoulder. When a shoulder is dislocated, the bone of the upper arm pops out of the socket which it typically rests in. This occurs as a result of damage to ligaments near where the top of the shoulder blade meets the end of the clavicle. A shoulder dislocation may occur as the result of a particularly forceful blow from contact or a fall, particularly when the force is directed such that it pushes the arm out of the joint. A dislocated shoulder can permanently reduce stability of the joint, making re-injury a very serious concern.


Since these shoulder injuries are typically due to blunt trauma, they can be difficult to prevent. It is very important to always wear shoulder pads to soften direct blows to the joint. It may also be beneficial to work on strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint to make the ligaments thicker and stronger.

A common strengthening exercise requires use of a small dumbbell or other weight. Simply start with the dumbbell in one hand, resting at your side. Slowly lift your arm laterally until you have achieved a 90-degree angle between your arm and body at the shoulder. While lifting, twist your arm slowly until the thumb faces downward. At the peak position, your arm should be shoulder height and horizontal to the ground. Then, slowly lower the arm back to a resting position.

If you are worried that your shoulder may be particularly prone to injury, you may be interested in using an additional protective or stabilizing device in addition to the required shoulder padding. In this case, consider use of a flexible stabilizer such as the New Options Arm-adillo Stabilizer or the Swede-O Thermoskin Sport Shoulder support.

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