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Polo Injuries | Avoiding Shoulder Injuries in Polo | Vail, CO


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Dr. Peter Millett ( is a renowned orthopedic shoulder surgeon. He treats rotator cuff repair, shoulder bursitis, osteoarthritis of the shoulder, shoulder impingement and shoulder dislocation and much more. He was recently interviewed for this fascinating article on POLO and injuries associated with the sport.

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Polo Injuries | Avoiding Shoulder Injuries in Polo | Vail, CO

  1. 1. While the horse itself provides a tremendous component to your success in the sport, it is the multi-tasking skill of the athlete that adds another layer that is ultimately responsible for the win. Refer to any image of polo players on their horses, and it is hard not to notice the strength they empower. They use their lower extremities to balance and hoist themselves to gain control of the ball, while using their upper body strength to drive it home. It is a wonderment that the human body could provide such awe-inspiring dexterity. Shoulder injuries among polo players It is this wonderment that unfortunately, for many polo players, often leads to injury. While many players experience fruitful and successful careers, many find themselves retiring early from the sport because of injury. According to the United States Polo Association, for every 100 hours of polo an individual plays, be it in games or scrimmages, one can expect an injury severe enough to see a physician. Among the highest percentage of injuries, the shoulder is often affected—accounting for more than 35 percent of injuries reported. According to Dr. Peter Millett, a shoulder surgeon and sports medicine specialist with the Steadman Clinic in Vail, CO, “The shoulder provides the greatest range of motion of any joint in the human body and it creates remarkable strength for athletes, especially for polo players where an excessive amount of pressure is placed on the region. The shoulder essentially acts as a ‘ball and socket’ and if too much pressure is placed in this area, or if a harsh impact is made, the joint can become unstable, which makes it exceptionally vulnerable to injury.” Given that statement, the high occurrence of shoulder injuries among polo players is no surprise. Many players begin 24 POLO PL AYERS EDITION Dr. Peter Millett The game of polo has been around for centuries. Fascinating and captivating to watch, today it still attracts loyal followers and mesmerizes audiences who witness the parallels of power between horse and rider, unified together to exemplify skill, agility and strength. by Kristy M. Theis SALVADORMORENO 񡑈񡑉񡑁񡑐񡑅񡑇񡑃 񡑅񡑇 񡑉񡑄񡑂 񡑃񡑁񡑆񡑂 Avoid shoulder injuries to prolong your time in the sport
  2. 2. A polo player’s story Xavier Olazabal knows this story all too well. He started playing at a very young age and by his teens was playing at the highest competitive level in Mexico. Practicing daily and participating in games and tournaments weekly put him at higher risk for injury. Throughout his career, Xavier would experience multiple injuries associated with the sport, but over the years, his shoulder would prove to be his biggest source of pain. At age 36, he cut down the time he spent on the field and began to play the sport only recreationally. It was in 2010 when Xavier would hang up his polo mallets once and for all. Now a successful businessman running a chocolate factory in Mexico, he was invited to play in a tournament in Spain and it was during the game that Xavier fell from his horse and landed on his shoulder. The high impact of the fall contributed to multiple breaks in the shoulder area and eventually led him to a full shoulder replacement. “The shoulder area is wide open for an injury in the sport of polo,” said Xavier. “For many players, years and years of training can lead to chronic shoulder pain and shoulder injuries. “It is also very common to see players fall from their horses. Where you land is a mystery until you’ve hit the ground. For me, it was right on my shoulder. I played the sport for three generations and I began to notice a trend where players retire from the game earlier than usual. For many, the pain and soreness in the upper body, arm and shoulder area simply become to much to bear.” In Xavier’s case, a destroyed shoulder from this traumatic injury lead him to Dr. Millett. “The surgery I had after my tournament injury in Spain did not work,” said Xavier, who had a severe fracture of his proximal humerus that also injured the rotator cuff and required shoulder replacement surgery. “I visited the Steadman Clinic and Dr. Millett to see what could be done. Dr. Millett completely rebuilt my shoulder, performing a reverse shoulder replacement surgery. I’m finally at a place where I am no longer experiencing shoulder pain. My range of motion is almost back to normal. I most likely will never play another game of polo because the risk for re- injury is too significant.” Most common shoulder injuries and new available treatments The most common shoulder injuries suffered from years of polo training include torn rotator cuffs, impingements, dislocations and subluxations (instability), and degenerative conditions from years and years of over-use such as arthritis and osteoarthritis. These conditions are caused from repetitive motions and years of vigorous training, as well as from falls and trauma associated with playing the game. For many players, sharp shoulder pain and a loss of shoulder function and movement their careers at a very young age, playing recreationally before reaching the competitive level. Years and years of training lead to repetitive rotation and over-use of the shoulder joint. Over time, as the joint weakens and ligaments are stretched, the shoulder can easily become over- compensated and the joints will essentially begin to degenerate. This degeneration is the cause of pain, soreness and injury for scores of polo players worldwide. In many cases, it is direct trauma to the shoulder area that will end their careers for good. POLO PL AYERS EDITION 25 This fall required several shoulder surgeries and forced Xavier Olazabal to quit polo. Polo players often land on their shoulders, damaging the joint.
  3. 3. 26 POLO PL AYERS EDITION are symptoms of the injuries. According to Dr. Millett, orthopedic procedures have come a long way in recent years. “For young polo players, a surgical technique known as Microfracture is one such advance that is used to regenerate or heal articular cartilage. It makes it possible to postpone the degeneration of the joint that typically leads to osteoarthritis, which can delay or eliminate the need for joint replacement surgery. “Probably the most promising is the CAM (Comprehensive Arthroscopic Management) procedure, which offers a very precise combination of surgical techniques specifically aimed at treating the major pain generators in the shoulder. It has been clinically shown to decrease pain and improve function and can be performed in young, active patients to preserve their shoulder joints, as well as in older patients who wish to avoid joint replacement surgery.” Shoulder injury prevention According to Luis Miguel Basaguren, a polo player who plays throughout the U.S., Argentina and Mexico, “Exercising the shoulder muscles in order to strengthen them is very important in the game of polo. I know of very few polo players that perform regular exercise to prevent injuries and this should be a common practice in this game because it is a high risk sport.” Basaguren, who suffered a shoulder injury when he fell from his horse several years ago, believes that polo players who do not prepare for injury or those who have their injuries poorly treated may be faced with early retirement from the sport. Polo players who play competitively or who spend hours upon hours each week training should have routine physicals with an orthopedic specialist to assess the shoulder joint and surrounding areas. Strength training and resistance training should be a weekly activity to help build endurance and keep the muscle strong. Utilizing resistance bands can be helpful in building up strength in the shoulder area without injuring nearby structures or adding strain to the area. Before playing in a game or during practice, it is essential that a proper warm-up of the shoulder region is performed. This can be doing by doing stretching exercises and range-of-motion movements to warm up the entire region. Whether you are in practice or in a game, it is important to listen to your body and pay attention to how your shoulders feel. Sometimes, taking a necessary break from the sport can heal whatever injury might exist. For many athletes who push the envelope too far or ignore the pain, irreversible damage can occur and surgeries, long rehabs and other problems will ultimately follow. Shoulder health is a very important aspect of life. Even after your polo career is over, you will still have to wash your hair, reach overhead and use strength to open and close doors. Physical therapy may also be helpful so that proper exercises and techniques can be learned and implemented. Pay attention to your body and create a safe and healthy prevention plan. This will help create a longer career and allow you to play at your maximum performance. About the Author: Kristy M. Theis is the editor for eMedical Media and wrote this article exclusively for Polo Players’ Edition magazine. Dr. Peter J. Millett was interviewed for this feature. Dr. Peter J. Millett is an orthopedic shoulder surgeon, sports medicine specialist and a partner at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, CO. Nic Roldan injured his shoulder this winter. He avoided surgery but was out for weeks. Dr. Millett performs shoulder surgery on a patient. He says orthopedic procedures have come a long way in recent years. SHELLEYHEATLEY