HealthONE - November 17, 2021

A sacked quarterback is never good news for a team, but when a quarterback (QB) ends up on the ground under a nearly 300-pound defensive lineman—coaches and fans often are concerned about the QB’s shoulder. The health of the shoulder is key in the QB’s critical role as the team’s primary throwing arm.

Keeping any throwing athlete’s shoulder healthy should be a priority. For injured high-performance athletes or those who have endured years of repetitive overhand throwing, surgery may be the best option to restore healthy function of the shoulder.

Shoulder basics

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that connects the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle). Other important structures of the shoulder include the rotator cuff (collection of muscles and tendons around the shoulder), the bursa (small sac of fluid that protects the tendons) and the labrum (a cuff of cartilage formed into a cup for the humerus). Many parts of the shoulder are vulnerable to injury, especially in contact sports. Football athletes often experience shoulder tendonitis, dislocation, separation, anterior instability, rotator cuff injury, SLAP tears (superior labrum anterior to posterior tears) and internal impingement.

At-home shoulder care

Many times, shoulder injury treatment can begin at home. When you experience shoulder pain, rest, icing and anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve pain. If the pain persists after several days, or if you experience a popping sensation and immediate weakness in the arm, seek medical attention.

If you have experienced shoulder pain that resolves with at-home treatment, consider the ways you can prevent further injury. Athletes always should wear properly fitting safety equipment, including shoulder pads. Learn the correct techniques to throw, tackle and block—these techniques are created to minimize injury. Take time to increase flexibility and strength, even outside of your regular sports season.

Sports can be a lot of fun but should be entered into intentionally. Take your sport seriously and invest time in properly educating yourself and preparing your body for the activity. While not all injuries are avoidable, this will give you the best chance staying injury-free.

When to seek care from a shoulder expert

Even with the best laid plans, sports injuries often will occur. Some injuries are acute—a significant trauma during a tackle or fall may lead to instant, intense pain. When you experience a popping sensation, deformity in the shoulder, weakness and/or loss of function in the arm, it is important to visit a provider as soon as possible to determine the extent of the damage.

If the pain builds up over time, it may be less obvious when to seek care. When pain does not subside, despite resting; when the pain continues even when not using the arm; when the pain is accompanied by numbness or weakness in the arm; or pain returns when you resume activity, make an appointment with your doctor. Ignoring shoulder pain can lead to irreversible damage. This damage may occur within the shoulder or the surrounding structures that need to compensate. It’s best to talk to a shoulder expert who can help you uncover the underlying injury and create a plan of treatment.

Shoulder surgery to get you back in the game

Shoulder surgery is among the more common types of surgery and often is highly effective in returning athletes to play. Most common shoulder surgeries include rotator cuff repairs, shoulder replacement, SLAP repair, and fracture treatment. Many times, these surgeries can be performed using minimally invasive techniques. Benefits of these advanced techniques include less pain, reduced blood loss, shorter hospital stays and a more rapid return to activity.

The good news is that, while shoulder pain can be debilitating for an athlete, there are many treatment options. The best advice for any athlete is to pay attention to your body and don’t ignore pain, especially when it’s severe or ongoing.

Learn more about shoulder surgery at Swedish Medical Center.

At OrthoONE at Swedish Medical Center, our highly qualified physicians have been providing specialized orthopedic care in the Denver area for more than 35 years. At our main location at Swedish Medical Center, as well as in our Highlands Ranch and Littleton locations, we provide a warm, personalized patient experience focused squarely on making our patients feel taken care of at every turn. Together we’re here to help you achieve your goals, so you can get back to making every day count. Our board-certified orthopedic doctors and surgeons can diagnose and treat diseases and injuries to bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and a wide scope of joints, including hips, knees, shoulders and foot/ankles. We specialize in the treatment of sports and work injuries, arthroscopy, fracture/trauma care, shoulder surgery, knee replacement, hip replacement, foot and ankle care and deformity correction. Our doctors see patients at three convenient locations, including Swedish Medical Center, Highlands Ranch and Littleton.