Shoulder instability events, such as dislocations and subluxations, can be debilitating problems for competitive athletes. In contact and collision sports like football, these events often occur during the season, making the treatment decisions Shoulder stabilizationchallenging. To return to play long-term, surgeons are increasingly opting to perform surgical stabilization to try to provide optimal stability and function to allow return to sports.

A study presented recently at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington examined the success of these shoulder stabilization surgeries among NFL players.

Ask Dr. Geier – Shoulder Dislocations
Ask Dr. Geier – Timing of Surgery

Do NFL players return to play after shoulder stabilization surgery?

Researchers from the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) in Birmingham, Alabama reviewed the charts of 60 NFL players who had undergone either arthroscopic or open stabilization at their institution. They looked at the rate of return to play, the length of time between surgery and return to an NFL game, and factors that might have impacted successful return.

Of the 60 NFL players who underwent shoulder stabilization at ASMI, 49 of them had arthroscopic labral repair, while 11 needed an open repair and capsular shift procedure.

Time missed after shoulder surgery

90% of the players (54 of the 60) successfully returned to play in a regular season NFL game after shoulder stabilization. Among the players who did return to play, the average time between surgery and the first game played was 8.6 months. None Shoulder dislocationof the 60 athletes returned to play in the same season in which he underwent surgery. Most of the athletes who had surgery in the offseason returned in time to play at the start of the following season.

The lead author of the study, Matthew J. White, MD, summarized his group’s findings. “Our study highlighted the success rate of return to play following shoulder stabilization surgery. Age, number of games before surgery, and career length were not statistically different between those that returned and those that did not.”

Also read and listen to this discussion from The Dr. David Geier Show:
Surgery for shoulder dislocations might be most cost-effective option
Episode 26: Should surgeons operate on young athletes with shoulder dislocations (starts at 3:22)

Are these surgeries successful for athletes in collision sports?

Shoulder instability is a difficult problem for an athlete who plays a contact or collision sport. At an elite level like NFL football, an athlete with an unstable shoulder likely will not have the strength or function to compete at the necessary level, and he could get cut from the team. Surgery is often required to provide him that shoulder stability and function, but recovery and return to play can take months of hard work in rehabilitation. This study shows that it is possible for a top athlete to return to play at a high level after major shoulder surgery.

Have you had surgery for shoulder dislocations? How long did it take to return to sports? If you are a surgeon or physical therapist, what have you seen that helps athletes return to play after shoulder surgeries? Share your thoughts below!

White MJ, Andrews JR, Cain EL, Dugas JR, Aune KT, Fleisig GS. Return to Play After Shoulder Stabilization in National Football League Athletes. Presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting July 10, 2014.