Labral Injuries In The American Football Lineman

May 4, 2022

When we think of overhead athletes, the “big” sports come to mind: baseball, tennis,volleyball, etc. However, have you ever thought about football linemen?  The American football offensive linemen is a position that utilizes upper body strength and stability to move defensive players around to protect the quarterback or to open holes for the running back.  Even though proper blocking technique wouldn’t indicate that the offensive lineman has his hands overhead, the force placed on the shoulders when attempting to control another player trying to make a tackle can be extremely intense and could cause shear forces leading to labral pathology.

Let’s take a closer look at the shoulder and how it works.  The shoulder is made up of bone (humerus and scapula), muscle, ligaments, and additional soft tissue structures to create stability in the joint.  This additional soft tissue structure is what we are focusing on today.  The labrum is a 360 circle of soft fibrocartilage that helps keep the humerus “in the socket” but is flexible enough to allow for the motions required by the shoulder to complete tasks of daily living.  For offensive lineman, the shear force (side to side shifting) of the humerus in the glenoid fossa can put stress onto this structure and cause it to fray and potentially tear.  A tear to this structure can be painful, can limit shoulder range of motion, and decrease the stability of the shoulder.  

If a labral injury does occur there can be a few avenues to recover and return back to football, so consult a physical therapist or orthopedic doctor if you suspect a labral tear. Depending on the type of tear, and severity of the tear, the timetable for recovery can range from 3 weeks to 12 months. Most athletes who fall into the moderate or severe category of injury will most likely require surgery to return at a high level of play. ~90% of athletes who have surgery have excellent outcomes in short term management.

In conclusion,the offensive lineman is a tough position that puts stress on the shoulders,which can lead to soft tissue damage. Decreasing the likelihood of these injuries is important and is a year-round task.  Proper strength training and glenohumeral stability exercises are imperative for success on the field.  Need more information on how to properly train?  Contact Kinetic today for more resources and information!