skiing shoulder injuries

Skiing and the Shoulder: ACJ and Clavicle Injuries

Shoulder injuries are common in athletes, but rather than the repetitive motion injuries that plague sports such as cricket or baseball, skiers and snowboarders are at increased risk of falls. This can lead to a number of different skiing shoulder injuries, with the most common being ACJ and clavicle injuries.

Here, we’ll address these common injuries, the treatment required and how you can potentially prevent them.

What are ACJ and clavicle injuries?

ACJ (Acromioclavicular Joint injuries) and clavicle injuries relate to problems with the collarbone. The ACJ is the collarbone joint, while the clavicle is the collarbone itself. These types of injuries can occur alone or happen alongside rotator cuff injuries.

If you do suffer these types of injuries, you’ll experience both pain and swelling in the collarbone area. Initially, the pain may stretch throughout the entire shoulder and collarbone. However, after the injury settles down, the pain will mostly be felt in either the ACJ or Clavicle area.

The most common injury affecting the collarbone is a fractured clavicle. It can easily occur if you fall while skiing and land on your outstretched arm. This can be a really painful injury, with the pain worsening when the arm is lifted.

How are they treated?

London Shoulder Specialist and consultant orthopaedic surgeon Susan Alexander recently presented on these winter sport shoulder injuries at the recent Fortius International Sports Injury Conference.

She warns against succumbing to pressure to undergo surgery immediately if you suffer a clavicle fracture. “Not all clavicle fractures need fixing, so don’t feel under pressure to have surgery immediately at the ski resort. Some clinics are very keen to fix things immediately, but you should be able to safely return home and seek a second opinion.

“However, if you have a clavicle injury where the skin is broken, or which poses a threat to nerves and arteries or to other injuries, urgent attention will be required.”

If you suffer an ACJ injury, these can also usually wait until you arrive back home to be treated. Like clavicle injuries, these don’t always require treatment. It’s best to consult a shoulder surgeon, rather than just a fracture clinic to have the injury fully assessed. They will then be able to advise you of the best course of treatment moving forward.

Can you prevent these skiing shoulder injuries?

As the majority of these ski-related injuries are caused by falls, it can be very tricky to prevent them. Strengthening your core and making sure you only tackle trails you can comfortably handle, will however reduce the chances of some falls.

If you are just starting out with skiing, you can also make sure you take plenty of lessons before hitting the slopes properly. Ensuring you wear all of the relevant safety gear will also help.

Another common skiing injury is to the thumb, accounting for about 5% of all ski injuries and often known as Skier’s Thumb. As Susan explains, “a fall can cause the thumb to be forced backwards in the hand straps of the ski poles on impact, tearing the ligaments in the thumb”.

Her advice on how to avoid this injury: “The best prevention is to use your ski pole strap correctly. Put your hand through the bottom of the strap and hold your ski pole handle over the strap. This means you can quickly drop the pole and protect your thumb, while the pole remains securely strapped around your wrist.”

Overall, upper limb injuries are common in skiers and snowboarders. It isn’t always possible to prevent them, but treatment is available if you do suffer a serious injury. Mild to moderate injuries can often be resolved without the need for surgery. Before seeking treatment, it is a good idea to undergo a consultation with a specialist shoulder surgeon. They will be able to identify the problem and its severity.

For diagnosis and treatment of skiing shoulder injuries, call 0203 195 2442 to arrange a consultation at the London Shoulder Specialists.