Common Shoulder Skiing Injuries

This is the time of year when many of us would normally be heading off to enjoy our two weeks of Winter sunshine on the ski slopes. Unfortunately, the impact of Covid means that skiing is off the agenda this year for most of us but as we begin our slow return to normality hopefully it won’t be too long before we are dusting off our skis again and heading off to our favourite resorts.

We see many sports-related injuries here at Thames Shoulder and Elbow and skiing is in the top five causes of shoulder injuries. If you’re nursing an old injury from the last time you went skiing, or if you’re already thinking ahead to your next skiing holiday, it’s good to be aware of the injuries to look out for (and what you can do about them).

Ski-related shoulder injuries

Man holding shoulder in painDamaged rotator cuff: Number one on our list of ski-related (and snowboarding-related) injuries to the shoulder is a torn or damaged rotator cuff. Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach the upper arm to the shoulder blade arm and provide stability to the shoulder joint. It can become damaged as the result of a fall, collision or incorrect pole planting. As you fall, the natural tendency is to reach out your arms but this means your arm and shoulder takes the full impact and the rotator cuff can become torn or ruptured.

Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include pain, weakness and restricted movement which may be accompanied by a catching or clicking sensation when you move your shoulder. The pain may be worse when you reach above your head or sleep on the affected side. In some instances, however, there will be no pain but only a feeling of weakness in the joint.

While many rotator cuff problems are caused by a traumatic injury, you can also develop spontaneous tendinopathy which is related to microtears in the rotator cuff. These cause pain in the upper arm, which tends to be worse at night or when you make movements of the arm away from the body. Subacromial bursitis can develop in response to this type of tendinopathy.

Man laying on back after skiing injuryOther common injuries to the shoulder that can result from skiing include:

  • Fractures to the collar bone and upper arm
  • Shoulder dislocations – this is when the head of the upper arm (humerus) is wrenched out of the socket (glenoid cavity). It is an extremely painful injury that makes it difficult to move the arm. Once the shoulder has dislocated it is more likely to dislocate again, particularly in people who are in their early twenties or younger. People who are forty or older are more susceptible to a rotator cuff tear during a dislocation.
  • Labral tears – the labrum is the ring of cartilage that attaches to the rim of the shoulder socket, helping to hold the ball in the socket. If this cartilage becomes torn it can cause the shoulder to dislocate recurrently.
  • Biceps tears – tears at the upper end of the biceps tendon are usually linked to rotator cuff damage. Damage accumulates in the tendon over time and can eventually completely tear causing a characteristic Popeye shape of the upper arm.

What to do

As with any kind of injury it is important to get a proper diagnosis to avoid the problem worsening or becoming chronic. Most shoulder problems will be diagnosed using an X-ray, MRI scan, CT scan or ultrasound.

Treatment for shoulder injuries

Treatment will depend on the type and extent of the injury. Less serious injuries can be managed with rest, painkilling medication and anti-inflammatories, stretching and strengthening exercises. For some types of injury an injection of corticosteroids into the affected area can provide short-term relief from pain while rehab is ongoing. In the case of more serious damage you may require keyhole shouldersurgery.

If you have an old skiing injury or if you get injured next time you are skiing contact our specialist orthopaedic consultants.

Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London

Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist). We can also offer consultations either online or face-to-face.

Telephone: 020 376 15987


Our Locations

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, St John’s Wood – Directions
BMI The Syon Clinic, Brentford – Directions
BMI The Clementine Churchill Hospital, Harrow – Directions
West Middlesex University Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Foundation Trust, Isleworth – Directions