During a hard fall, a shoulder gives way where it's weakest, and that's often either the AC joint or the clavicle. The clavicle will be forced away from the shoulder bone, resulting in a shoulder separation (a ligament injury), or the bone itself will fracture. Either injury can cause a deformity, but unless it's severe, rest is usually the primary treatment. You can forget about doing bench presses anytime soon. Recuperation requires at least 8 weeks.
Roll through falls. It's tough to control a fall when a tackler is initiating it and, to a large degree, controlling it. But learning to manage contact in contact sports can help disperse the brunt of impact across as many of your bones and joints as possible. Your goal is to roll through the impact rather than using a stopping motion. Relaxing instead of tensing up also helps manage the effect of contact with the ground. Practice falling on a padded floor at the gym, forcing your body to relax with each tumble.
Case study: 34-year-old male presents with intense pain and significant swelling of right knee. Subject was playing soccer when he heard a loud pop after pivoting on right foot while dribbling past a defender. Suspected right ACL tear.
A tear of the knee's anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), like all ligament injuries, is distressingly prevalent among weekend warriors. The guy who's deskbound all week often doesn't have the conditioning, come Saturday, to execute the quick start-stop movements that soccer, skiing, football, and basketball require. He pivots in one direction while his lower leg keeps moving in the other, tearing his knee's stabilizing ACL.
Hang with me for a quick anatomy lesson. Four primary ligaments hold together the bones that meet at the knee: The two collateral ligaments (on either side of the knee) check the knee's sideways motion, and the two cruciate ligaments (inside the joint) control back-and-forth movement. ("Anterior" means "at the front"; the PCL, or posterior cruciate ligament, is—you guessed it—at the back.) Any direct contact to the knee or rapid change in direction can stretch and even tear these ligaments. At best, you're benched for months. At worst, as in a Grade III tear, a ligament snaps clean through and often needs surgical repair.
Brace your knee. Create a brace of sturdy quads, hamstrings, and calves using a leg-targeted lifting routine that includes squats, lunges, leg presses, and the hamstring exercises described above. Hop to it. Use jump squats to combine muscle building with balance and coordination training. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands out, and elbows angled 90 degrees, bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Explode upward, driving your arms up. Land softly on both feet, making sure your knees don't bow inward. Rest for a couple of seconds, and repeat. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Case study: 28-year-old male complaining of dizziness, headache, and inability to concentrate. Patient fell and hit his head while bicycling with friends. Rendered momentarily unresponsive. Patient was not wearing a helmet.
When you take a hard hit to the head while skiing, bicycling, or blocking a tackle, your brain is violently shaken and sometimes literally slams against its hard casing—your skull—injuring precious neurons in the process. The result is often confusion, blurred vision, memory loss, nausea, and sometimes unconsciousness. A single severe concussion or repeated mild concussions may lead to lasting depression and dementia, as we're seeing with an increasing number of NFL players.
Choose the right headgear. A good lid can absorb and deflect impact forces and prevent serious brain injury. Until I became an ER doc in Colorado, I never used to wear a helmet while skiing. But then I saw maybe five severe head-injury cases on the job every day, some of them young skiers who would never walk or talk normally again, all because they weren't wearing a helmet. It's a stupid, unbelievable waste. A helmet should be snug, level on your head, and stable enough to remain in place despite violent shakes or hard blows. But don't think one helmet will protect your dome for all activities. Consult the certifications on the product's packaging to ensure that the helmet has been tested to the appropriate standards. Cycling or in-line skating require an ASTM F1447 certified helmet; BMX requires an ASTM F2032 certified lid; and a rock climber needs an EN 12492 helmet.