JOHN DOHERTY: Athletes shouldering quite a burden

2014-01-20T17:15:00Z 2014-01-20T18:24:21Z JOHN DOHERTY: Athletes shouldering quite a burdenJohn Doherty Sports Medicine
January 20, 2014 5:15 pm  • 

While the snow piles up around us, here’s a happy thought to sustain you: spring training is just more than a month away at the professional level.

Keep in mind however, that high-school-level players and younger, especially pitchers, are busy with lessons and indoor practices to prepare for the warmer weather, too. Unfortunately, that translates to arm overuse and shoulder trouble.

Ditto for the volleyball players who are now in the middle of club season. Of course, the reality is that their season never ends — and once it starts, neither does their serving/spiking shoulder soreness.

That’s the narrative. Baseball/softball and volleyball are just no good for shoulders.

Perhaps so. Coaches — and parents of athletes in those sports — certainly should and could do a better job of limiting the abuse to the shoulders of athletes in those sports.

Still there are two other sports that are far more dangerous to the shoulder than baseball, softball,\ or volleyball.

In fact, the two sports in question account for nearly three quarters of all shoulder injuries at the high school level. The culprits are football and wrestling.

One reason for the high numbers in football is sheer participation. No sport has greater numbers nationwide.

Nonetheless, according to a study published earlier this month in the journal Pediatrics, the high numbers aren’t solely a function of participation. Football also has the highest rate of shoulder injuries, followed closely by wrestling. None of the seven other sports studied are even close.

Based on data gathered by athletic trainers at 100 high schools across the country between 2005 and 2012, researchers in Ohio and Colorado determined the number of shoulder injuries per 10,000 athlete exposures (AE), with an AE being defined as one athlete participating in one practice or one game.

The number of shoulder injuries per 10,000 AE was 4.86 in football and 4.06 in wrestling. Baseball was a distant third at 1.49. Softball, volleyball, boys soccer, girls basketball, boys basketball and girls soccer followed in that order, all with rates below 1.00 per 10,000 AE.

Based on their results, the authors concluded, “Targeting football- and wrestling-specific interventions to limit shoulder injuries with a focus on appropriate protective equipment, an emphasis on proper tackling and wrestling technique, and stricter enforcement of rules by referees may result in significantly lower numbers of shoulder injuries.”

One may assume that the recent efforts to significantly reduce the frequency of contact in football — far less “going live” in practice — will in turn lower the number of shoulder injuries. Don’t be so sure, because 57 percent of shoulder injuries in football occur during games. In wrestling, half the incidents were in practice, half in matches.

While shoulder woes in the other sports were far less frequent, when they did take place, they tended to be more severe in several sports than the typical injury in football or wrestling. Boys soccer and boys basketball players’ shoulder injuries ended seasons or careers more than 10 percent of the time. Fully one quarter of girls soccer shoulder troubles resulted in missing three weeks or longer.

If they spent more time in the weight room, athletes in those sports would spend less time in the training room.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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