As a proud parent of young daughters pursuing the sport of volleyball, I understand the importance of addressing the complexities of the shoulder joint and the potential risks that overhead sport athletes may encounter.
With our recent venture into the competitive world of Club Volleyball, I've taken the opportunity to delve into the literature to gain a deeper understanding of shoulder injuries. It can be overwhelming for both young athletes and parents to navigate the intricacies of shoulder health. The key focus should be on injury prevention and protecting the shoulder joint from overuse.
During my time at the Belmont Volleyball camp, I had the privilege of listening to the closing remarks of their coach, who brought up thought-provoking points about the sport, particularly in relation to hitting. Surprisingly, studies have shown that infielders in baseball, rather than catchers, experience the most visits to orthopedists for back and spine injuries. This highlights the repetitive motion and demands placed on the shoulders of hitters, which parallel those of pitchers in baseball.
In baseball, pitch counts and rest time for pitchers are closely monitored at all levels to prevent overuse injuries. However, when we examine the workload of a busy middle or outside hitter during a weekend volleyball tournament, they may strike the ball 200-300 times in a single match alone. Considering that tournament weekends often involve 2-3 matches per day, the repetitive strain on the shoulder becomes evident. Volleyball places significant demands on the shoulder joint and requires proactive measures to ensure the athletes' well-being.
Preventing Shoulder Injuries in Volleyball Players
So, what can players do to protect themselves? It starts with developing a basic understanding of shoulder anatomy, which is crucial for injury prevention. The shoulder joint is inherently designed to be unstable, allowing for the extreme positions required in sports like volleyball. To keep the "ball on the tee," we need to focus on both static and dynamic stabilizers.
Static stabilizers encompass the bony anatomy, genetic laxity of the joint capsule, and ligaments that strengthen the shoulder. Factors such as variations in the labrum, a thick cartilage acting as a stabilizer, can significantly impact shoulder stability. Unfortunately, certain individuals with loose joints or existing labral problems may face additional challenges.
However, there are aspects within our control—the dynamic stabilizers, which refer to the muscles and their control in space. These muscles can be divided into two groups: stabilizers of the humeral head (rotator cuff) and stabilizers of the scapula (shoulder blade). Training these muscles correctly is essential for maximizing their benefits and protecting the shoulder.
Rotator cuff muscles should be trained with light weights or rubber bands, emphasizing endurance training with higher repetitions. Exercises that involve internal and external rotation of the joint, performed with the shoulder elevated to 90 degrees from the side of the body, can effectively target these muscles. However, modifications can be made to reduce joint stress, such as keeping the arm down to the side during exercises. It is crucial to maintain balanced strength among all four rotator cuff muscles for optimal joint stability.
Stabilizers of the scapula require more complex motions. The rhomboid, trapezius, serratus anterior, and lower pectoralis muscles play key roles in stabilizing the scapula. Incorporating exercises like upright rows, shoulder shrugs, and decline chest presses can help maintain proper scapular positioning to support the shoulder.
Rest is also within our control as players, parents, and coaches. It's essential to prioritize rest and recovery between seasons, as well as during the summer. Coaches who understand the importance of allowing time for recovery after intense tournaments contribute greatly to their players' well-being. Applying ice to the shoulder after practice can help manage inflammation, and in some cases, anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed.
Schedule an Appointment With a Shoulder Specialist Near You
If you or your child is experiencing shoulder pain resulting from a volleyball injury, don't hesitate to seek professional medical care. Our dedicated team of shoulder specialists at Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics is here to provide expert evaluation and treatment. Schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic surgeons in Nashville, TN, or Franklin, TN, by clicking here.
By prioritizing injury prevention strategies and seeking timely medical attention, we can ensure a safe and successful volleyball season for young athletes.