Torn Rotator Cuff Muscles

Skiers often travel at speeds of up to 40mph even on not very steep slopes. Skiing a bit too fast for your ability can cause you to lose control, especially if you are quite inexperienced. Shoulder injuries can occur on the slopes from falling or crashing into other skiers or static objects, particularly at high speeds.

What are the Rotator Cuff Muscles?

This is the group of four muscles that join the shoulder blade (scapula) to the humerus (upper arm bone). These muscles maintain the stability of the shoulder joint and help it to move.

How can the Rotator Cuff Muscles Become Damaged?

The muscles can become injured through direct trauma to the shoulder, if you fall heavily directly onto your arm or if you try to use your hand to protect yourself when you fall. If the force that is applied to the shoulder is substantial enough, the rotator cuff muscles can become torn or ruptured completely. This injury can also develop over time through repetitive strain, but this cause is not as common in skiing. You are more at risk of sustaining this injury if your posture is poor and older skiers are also more susceptible to it because the older you are, the less force is required to cause damage.

What are the Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff Muscle?

The outside and upper part of the arm will feel painful. The pain will get worse when you move, especially if you try to lift your arm over your head or across your body. You will lose strength and movement in the shoulder and muscle spasms might set in. If the tear is very serious it will be almost impossible to raise your arm sideways unaided.

Preventing Injury to the Rotator Cuff Muscles

Pre-season

Doing exercises that build up the shoulder muscles will make them more resilient. Improving your overall fitness will make you less likely to become fatigued while you're skiing. Fatigued muscles are more vulnerable to injury. Honing your skiing technique will also make you more competent on the slopes, reducing the risk of falling and becoming injured.

When You're Skiing

Don't attempt anything that is beyond your ability. If you are out of your comfort zone you will be more likely to have an accident. If possible, ski on quieter routes and at quieter times of the day, which will reduce the risk of nasty collisions with other skiers or objects.

Treating a Rotator Cuff Injury

For the first 3 days after sustaining the injury, applying ice wrapped in a cloth 3 times a day for 20 minutes at a time will reduce pain and inflammation. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen in the short term will also help. You may have to wear a sling (which you remove at night) to rest the shoulder muscles. Exercises to stabilize the shoulder blade and strengthen the shoulder muscles will aid the healing process. If the muscle is completely ruptured, keyhole surgery may be performed. Over 90% of people who have keyhole surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff muscle make a complete recovery and the shoulder regains its full strength and range of movement.

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