CALL US TODAY (719) 285-9670

Shoulder Injury from Skiing: Symptoms and Treatments

Shoulder Injury from Skiing: Symptoms and Treatments


Skiing is a thrilling and physically demanding sport that can sometimes lead to injuries, particularly in the shoulder area. Understanding the symptoms and treatments of common shoulder injuries can help skiers manage their recovery and get back on the slopes safely. This blog will guide you through some type of shoulder injury from skiing, their symptoms, treatment options, and prevention tips.

Common Types of Shoulder Injuries in Skiing


A shoulder dislocation is one of the most common types of shoulder injury from skiing. It occurs when the upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket. This injury often happens due to a fall or a sudden, forceful impact. The common mechanism of shoulder injury skiing includes high-speed falls and collisions, which are prevalent in alpine skiing injuries. The dislocation may involve damage to surrounding ligaments and tissues, increasing the risk of other types of injuries.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder. Injuries to this area, such as tears or strains, can result from overuse or acute trauma. A rotator cuff strain often results from repetitive motions or a sudden force during skiing. These types of injuries are common in both skiing and snowboarding injuries due to the similar upper extremity movements involved.


Fractures in the shoulder area, including the clavicle (collar bone) and the scapula are some of the most common skiing shoulder injury and can occur during accidents involving high-impact falls or collisions. Clavicle fractures are particularly common skiing injuries due to the direct impact or fall onto an outstretched hand. Scapula fractures are less common but can occur in severe injuries.

AC Joint Injuries

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint connects the collarbone to the shoulder blade. Injuries to this joint, often referred to as a “separated shoulder,” can result from falls or direct blows to the shoulder. Joint separations are common in skiing due to the risk of falling and landing on the shoulder.

General Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries


Pain is a common symptom of most shoulder injuries, ranging from mild discomfort to severe agony, depending on the type and severity of the injury. Pain can be immediate or develop over time, depending on the injury’s nature.


Swelling around the shoulder joint can indicate an injury, signaling inflammation or internal bleeding. This is common in musculoskeletal injuries where the body’s response to trauma includes increased blood flow and fluid accumulation.

Limited Range of Motion

Injuries often result in restricted movement, making it difficult to perform everyday activities or specific skiing maneuvers. This limitation can be due to pain, swelling, or structural damage.


Shoulder injuries can lead to muscle weakness, reducing the ability to lift or carry objects. This is particularly concerning for skiers, as it affects their ability to handle ski poles and maintain balance.


A feeling of looseness or instability in the shoulder can occur, especially with dislocations or severe ligament injuries. This instability increases the risk of re-injury during skiing activities.

Differentiating Between Types of Shoulder Injuries Based on Symptoms

Differentiating Between Types of Shoulder Injuries Based on Symptoms

Rotator Cuff Tears


  • Dull ache deep in the shoulder
  • Difficulty sleeping on the affected side
  • Arm weakness


Rotator cuff tears often present with pain during specific arm movements, particularly lifting or reaching overhead. An MRI can confirm the diagnosis. A complete tear may result in significant loss of function and require surgical intervention.

Shoulder Dislocation


  • Intense pain
  • Visible deformity
  • Swelling and bruising


A dislocated shoulder typically causes a visible out-of-place shoulder joint and immediate, sharp pain. X-rays are used to confirm the dislocation. This type of injury often occurs in skiing injury scenarios involving high-speed falls.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)


  • Stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint
  • Gradual onset of symptoms
  • Limited range of motion


Frozen shoulder develops gradually and is characterized by stiffness and a significant decrease in shoulder movement, often without a specific injury event. It is more common in individuals who have had previous shoulder injuries or immobilization.

Shoulder Bursitis


  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Pain during movement
  • Redness and warmth around the shoulder


Bursitis is often associated with repetitive shoulder use and presents with localized swelling and tenderness over the shoulder. This condition can be exacerbated by cold weather conditions often encountered during skiing.

SLAP Lesion (Superior Labral tear from Anterior to Posterior)


  • Locking, popping, or grinding sensations
  • Pain with specific movements
  • Shoulder instability


A SLAP lesion involves a tear in the labrum and often causes clicking or catching sensations within the shoulder. MRI arthroscopy can diagnose this condition. It commonly results from a fall onto an outstretched hand or a direct blow to the shoulder during skiing.

Shoulder Impingement


  • Pain during overhead activities
  • Difficulty reaching behind the back
  • Shoulder weakness


Impingement is characterized by pain during specific shoulder movements, especially lifting the arm overhead, and is often diagnosed through clinical examination and imaging. This injury is common among skiers who perform repetitive arm movements.

Immediate Steps to Take After Injury


Immediately immobilize the injured shoulder to prevent further damage. Use a sling or similar support. This is crucial to stabilize the joint and minimize movement.


Apply ice packs to the affected area to reduce swelling and numb the pain. Use ice for 20 minutes every hour as needed. Ice is effective in managing acute inflammation commonly seen in skiing injuries.


Keep the shoulder elevated to help reduce swelling and improve blood flow. Elevation can be particularly helpful in reducing the risk of complications from severe injuries.

Physical Therapy Treatment

Initial Assessment

A physical therapist will evaluate the injury, including a detailed medical history and physical examination, to develop an appropriate treatment plan. This assessment helps identify the specific type of injury and the best course of action.

Pain Management

Techniques such as ice, heat, and ultrasound therapy may be used to manage pain and inflammation. Pain management is essential to enable effective rehabilitation.

Range of Motion Exercises

Gentle exercises to restore movement and flexibility in the shoulder joint are essential for recovery. These exercises help prevent stiffness and maintain joint function.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening Exercises

Progressive strength training helps rebuild muscle and improve shoulder stability. Strengthening exercises are vital in preventing future injuries and enhancing performance.

Functional Training

Functional exercises focus on improving shoulder function for daily activities and skiing-specific movements. This training ensures that the shoulder can handle the demands of skiing.

Education and Prevention

Physical therapists educate patients on proper techniques and exercises to prevent future injuries. This education includes tips on pre-season conditioning and the correct use of equipment.

Progress Monitoring

Regular assessments ensure the treatment plan is effective and adjustments are made as needed. Progress monitoring helps track recovery and make necessary changes to the rehabilitation program.

Prevention Tips

Pre-Season Conditioning and Strength Training

Strengthening the shoulder muscles and improving overall fitness can help prevent injuries. Pre-season conditioning prepares the body for the physical demands of skiing.

Proper Techniques and Equipment Use

Using correct skiing techniques and properly fitted equipment reduces the risk of shoulder injuries. Ensuring that ski poles and other equipment are appropriate for your skill level and body type is essential.

Importance of Warming Up and Cooling Down

A proper warm-up and cool-down routine helps prepare the muscles and joints for physical activity and aids in recovery. These routines reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and improve performance.

Recover from Shoulder Injuries with Backcountry Physical Therapy

At Backcountry Physical Therapy, we specialize in helping you recover from a shoulder injury from skiing and get back to doing what you love. Our expert team provides personalized physical therapy tailored to your specific needs, ensuring effective pain management, improved range of motion, and strengthened muscles. We also offer skiing tips to prevent future injuries, empowering you to enjoy a safe and injury-free skiing experience. Trust Backcountry Physical Therapy to support your recovery journey with top-notch care and professional guidance.


Shoulder injuries from skiing can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and treatment, you can manage your recovery effectively. Remember to take preventive measures to protect your shoulders and enjoy a safe skiing season.


How long does a strained shoulder take to heal?

A strained shoulder can take a few weeks to several months to heal, depending on the severity of the strain and the effectiveness of the treatment plan. Consistent physical therapy and proper care can expedite recovery.

What is the most painful injury to a shoulder?

Dislocations and fractures are often considered the most painful shoulder injuries due to the intense pain and immediate disability they cause. These severe injuries typically require longer recovery times and more intensive treatment.

How do I know if I seriously hurt my shoulder?

Severe pain, visible deformity, significant swelling, and an inability to move the shoulder are signs of a serious injury that requires immediate medical attention. Consulting with shoulder specialists can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!