Common Shoulder Injuries in Surfers and How to Deal with Them

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Surfing is a thrilling, invigorating and challenging sport that allows people to ride waves and connect with the ocean in an extraordinary way. However, the repetitive motions and physical demands involved in surfing can put a significant strain on the shoulders, making shoulder injuries a common occurrence among surfers.

In this blog, we will delve into the most prevalent shoulder injuries that surfers face, explore their causes, symptoms, and specific injuries, and finally provide valuable insights into how to manage and prevent these injuries through physiotherapy techniques. Remember, this is educational purposes only and you should always seek an individual assessment following any new injuries.

  1. Rotator Cuff Related Shoulder Pain 

The rotator cuff comprises a group of four muscles and tendons that stabilise and support the shoulder joint. The repetitive, quick and forceful movements required during surfing can lead to rotator cuff aggravation and tears. This group of injuries can range from mild inflammation to partial or complete tears, causing pain, weakness, and limited range of motion. Often it is the result of direct trauma into the shoulder, or overuse/ doing too much too soon. To prevent this ensure you are progressing slowly, listening to your body when it becomes tired, and ensure you have enough strength and mobility into your shoulders. Made By Movement Studio "MBM Clinic" section has a lecture on rotator cuff related shoulder pain that goes into detail and what to do next. 

  1. Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a controversial topic in sports science as there is debate as to whether this is a true syndrome or a result of another (and therefore should not be a diagnosis) however I think it may be worth mentioning here.  When the tendons of the rotator cuff and the bursa become inflamed due to injury, poor strength and/or control they can  become compressed and further irritated between the bones of the shoulder. Paddling on the surfboard and performing repetitive overhead maneuvers can contribute to aggravation. So,  without proper strength and mobility into the shoulder this can cause aggravation into the soft tissues that support the joint. To build strength and mobility into the shoulders check out Made By Movement's shoulder strength classes, we even have some specific for surfers!


  1. Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Sprain

The AC joint is located at the top of the shoulder, where the acromion (part of the shoulder blade) meets the clavicle. It can get injured during falls or wipeouts when surfers land on their shoulders or sustain a direct impact. This is a common injury seen in cyclist but is not out of the realm of possibilities in the water. This is one that while you can't stop a wipe out and accidents happen, better outcomes post injury are seen with those who had more strength into the shoulder to begin with. SO, build that strength now and recover quicker later. 

  1. Glenohumeral Dislocation/Subluxation/ SLAP tear 

The glenohumeral joint, commonly known as the shoulder joint, can experience dislocation or subluxation when the humeral head partially or completely comes out of its socket. This often happens due to sudden, forceful movements or falls during surfing. Similar to the ACJ injuries discussed above these can happen when too much force goes through a joint causing it to dislocate and injure the joint and surrounding soft tissues. Much of the same as said above, while you can't stop a wipe out and accidents from happening you can do essential "prehab" which will help you have better outcomes post injury.


Prevention Tips:

  1. Warm-up: Always perform a thorough warm-up before surfing to prepare your shoulder muscles and joints for the physical demands ahead. This also gives you some time to assess how you are feeling that day into your body and mind (tired, strong etc). 

  2. Strengthening: Engage in regular shoulder-specific strengthening exercises to enhance the stability and endurance of the shoulder muscles. Check out Made By Movement for guidance and classes 

  3. Technique: Work with a qualified surf instructor to improve your surfing technique and body mechanics, reducing the strain on your shoulders.

  4. Recovery: Ensure you give your body ample time to recover after intense surfing sessions to avoid overuse injuries.


Surfing is undoubtedly an exhilarating experience, but it comes with its share of physical challenges, especially for the shoulders. By understanding common shoulder injuries, their prevention, and effective physiotherapy management, surfers can take proactive steps to protect their shoulders, enhance their performance, and enjoy the sport they love with reduced risk of injury. Always consult a qualified physiotherapist for an individualized treatment plan tailored to your needs and condition. With proper care and attention, surfers can ride the waves for years to come, feeling strong, agile, and injury-free.

If you are surfing in Edinburgh and want to see a specialist, book in here to review your injury or get a strength and conditioning plan with Dr. Kristen Kennedy Weed. 


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