Since the object of a boxing match is to knock your opponent unconscious, it isn't always the easiest sport on the body. Head trauma and impact injuries are something the pros have to worry about, but even if you never plan to step into the ring, shoulder injuries run rampant in boxing gyms. Going too hard or too long on the speed bag can result in tears to your shoulders.
Types of Injuries
The repetitive nature of boxing is one of the main culprits associated with chronic shoulder injuries. Instability and impingement are two common injuries to the shoulder joint, but more serious injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, are also possible. Instability occurs due to overuse and can result in pain when raising your arm as well as a slipping sensation as your shoulder shifts. Impingement occurs when your shoulder muscles rub against the top part of the shoulder blade.
Boxing is all about punching, and to get good at punching, you need to focus on repetition. Throwing punches can damage your shoulders, whether you make contact with a heavy bag or thin air. Making contact with a bag causes recoil and impact damage to the shoulder joint, while missed punches can cause your shoulder to sublux, or dislocate. A 2007 study conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association on shoulder injuries suffered by West Point cadets found that boxing caused more injuries than any other sport. According to the research, missed punches were to blame for more subluxations than any other aspect of training, and in 49.4 percent of the cases studied, shoulder tears were identified.
A minor rotator cuff tear can be treated with ice and a break from training, but more severe cases will require surgery. The longer a tear goes undiagnosed and untreated, the more damage you're going to cause to your shoulder joint. Symptoms of rotator cuff tears can resolve on their own, but will not heal without surgical intervention.
Outlook and Prevention
A shoulder tear is a nasty proposition, so prevention should be your top priority in boxing training. Fitness expert and martial artist Katalin Rodriguez Zamiar recommends including a regular rotator cuff-strengthening routine as part of your training program. The simplest ways to strengthen and support your shoulder are through internal and external rotation, which can be done with resistance bands.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.