Shoulder injuries in Combat sports


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Hey everyone.  Quis here. Name two people in your gym that just love being thrown.  I don’t mean just an everyday sacrifice throw but two guys that love getting thrown for 5.  Full-blown took off the mat, feet above your head, and brought down just safe enough to not get called for it.  Grapplers tend to want to brace for throws especially early on and usually, that means trying to post with an arm. I’ve seen shoulders get separated on whizzers and wheel trips because off trying to post the arm for the fall. Separated shoulders are just one of the injuries that can affect grapplers as common shoulder issues such as Rotator Cuff Tears and Tendonitis,  and ligamentous sprains are possible.

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The shoulder is a complex of 4 joints including a synovial ball and socket joint with 3 degrees of freedom, a saddle joint with, a physiological joint, I’m kidding, you don’t want to know all that but it is a group of 4 joints. There is the glenohumeral joint that connects the arm to the shoulder. You have the acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular joints which include your clavicle (collar bone). The final joint is the scapulothoracic joint. The bones in each joint are connected via ligaments that connect bone to bone and cartilage allows the bones to glide on another bone. Finally, you have muscles that attach to the bone via tendons. Overall this creates a structure that is both mobile and strong.

The joints in your shoulder can be damaged from the fall. That’s why being able to break-fall is important and why most of us spent countless hours at the beginning of our martial arts journey learning how to break-fall and roll with the throw. If during the throw you land on the point of shoulder with enough force there can be an issue with the AC joint.  On the other hand, if the athlete sticks out their arm and gets planted with sufficient enough force a fracture of the collarbone or dislocation can occur. Before anyone gets worried the majority of these issues don’t require surgery. If it is significant to require surgery the rehab process has improved over time so that it does not mean a career-ending injury in most cases.

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder joint and also perform rotation activities. The Americana/Keylock forcibly externally rotates the shoulder a motion that is done by the Infraspinatus and Teres Minor.  The  Kimura, on the other hand, pushes the shoulder joint into the extremes of internal rotation a motion that is performed by the subscapularis, pectoralis major, and the latissimus dorsi depending on where the Kimura is applied. If the person on which the move is being applied taps out or gets out of the move in time there may just be some soreness or a muscle strain or ligamentous strains. If sufficient torque is applied tearing can occur.  Usually, if it’s a small to moderate size tear surgery is not required.

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Tendonitis which is just commonly believed to be an overuse issue is more of an issue where your body is compensating for a lack of strength or mobility. So extra stress is placed on muscles that are taking up more of a load than what they should or moving in a manner in which it is not quite adapted to.  Initially, it becomes an irritant at the tendons and can gradually increase. Rest and correcting the issues that caused the irritation in the first place helps.  

Stay tuned for the next post as we go over interventions for these issues.


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