The shoulder is one of the most complex and mobile joints in the body, but also one of the most vulnerable to injury. According to a study by Kirsch, shoulder injuries are the most prevalent upper extremity injury among professional football quarterbacks, accounting for 48.5% of all injuries in this position. The majority of these injuries are caused by direct contact with other players or the ground, rather than by the throwing motion itself.
The most common shoulder injury for quarterbacks is a rotator cuff tear, which involves damage to the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and enable its rotation. A rotator cuff tear can cause pain, weakness, and reduced range of motion in the shoulder, making it difficult to throw the ball accurately and powerfully. Depending on the severity of the tear, it may be treated conservatively with rest, ice, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy, or surgically with arthroscopic or open repair.
Dr. Stowell is one of the few orthopedic surgeons in north Idaho that performs Superior Capsule Reconstruction, a surgery that helps restore shoulder stability in irreparable rotator cuff tears. He is one of very few orthopedic surgeons in the nation performing the Stryker InSpace™ Balloon Implant, which was FDA-approved in July 2021 after 10 years of clinical research. This breakthrough shoulder balloon implant is a biodegradable spacer to arthroscopically treat massive irreparable rotator cuff tears.
Another common shoulder injury for quarterbacks is a labral tear, which affects the ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket and helps keep the ball of the humerus (upper arm bone) in place. A labral tear can occur from a single traumatic event, such as a dislocation or a fall, or from repetitive overhead throwing. A labral tear can cause pain, instability, and clicking or catching sensations in the shoulder. Depending on the type and location of the tear, it may be treated with arthroscopic surgery to repair or remove the damaged tissue.
A less common but more serious shoulder injury for quarterbacks is a fracture of the proximal humerus, which is the upper part of the arm bone that forms the ball of the shoulder joint. This injury can result from a high-energy impact to the shoulder, such as a collision or a fall. A fracture of the proximal humerus can cause severe pain, swelling, bruising, and deformity in the shoulder area. Depending on the number and displacement of the fracture fragments, it may be treated with immobilization, external fixation, or surgery to insert plates and screws.
The elbow is another joint that is frequently injured by quarterbacks due to the high stresses placed on it during throwing. According to Kirsch, elbow injuries account for 19% of all upper extremity injuries among professional football quarterbacks. The most common mechanism of elbow injury is hyperextension, which occurs when the elbow is forced beyond its normal range of motion.
The most common elbow injury for quarterbacks is an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear, which affects the ligament that connects the ulna (forearm bone) to the humerus (upper arm bone) on the inner side of the elbow. The UCL provides stability and prevents excessive valgus stress (sideways bending) on the elbow during throwing. A UCL tear can cause pain, swelling, instability, and reduced velocity and accuracy in throwing. Depending on the degree of damage, it may be treated with rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, or surgery to reconstruct or repair the ligament.
Another common elbow injury for quarterbacks is an olecranon fracture, which involves a break in the bony tip of the ulna that forms the point of the elbow. This injury can occur from a direct blow to the elbow or from landing on an outstretched arm. An olecranon fracture can cause pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty bending and straightening the elbow. Depending on the displacement and alignment of the fracture fragments, it may be treated with immobilization, external fixation, or surgery to insert wires or screws.
A less common but more debilitating elbow injury for quarterbacks is an ulnar nerve injury, which affects the nerve that runs along the inner side of the elbow and provides sensation and motor function to the hand and fingers. This injury can result from compression, stretching, or laceration of the nerve during throwing or trauma.
An ulnar nerve injury can cause numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the ring and little fingers, as well as weakness, atrophy, and clumsiness of the hand muscles. Depending on the severity and duration of the injury, it may be treated with rest, splinting, anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, or surgery to decompress or relocate the nerve.
Dr. Stowell is a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder and elbow conditions, with procedures including arthroscopic and minimally invasive surgery. While minimally invasive surgery, arthroscopic procedures, and joint reconstruction are areas of interest, he also has an extensive practice in trauma and fracture management, as well as general orthopedic procedures. If you are dealing with an orthopedic injury and would like to consult with Dr. Stowell, please call (208) 457-4211 to schedule your appointment.