Hope Solo’s Injury-Plagued World Cup

After her amazing performance throughout the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, there’s no doubt that you now know the name, Hope Solo. Hope is the goalkeeper for the USA women’s soccer team. This year’s WWC firmly supplanted her as the best goalkeeper in the world as she received the Golden Glove Award for the top goalkeeper in the tournament despite the team’s second-place finish.

What you may not know about Solo is that she has battled through several injuries over the last year. The biggest injury was a right shoulder injury that required reconstructive surgery by Dr. James Andrews. I recently attended Dr. Andrews’ conference on baseball injuries and wrote about it here. That post was about asymmetries in the body and how dangerous they can be…I bet you can guess where I’m going with this post.

Solo described her shoulder surgery in an interview with TheOriginalWinger.com. She had a 360 degree tear of her labrum, bone fragments, and very little cartilage left in her shoulder, and they ended up placing 10 anchors in her shoulder to secure the sutures. It’s remarkable that she recovered from that in time for the WWC and was then able to play at such a ridiculously high level.

Like all of our clients, I want to get to the root cause of Hope’s shoulder pain. I’m not necessarily worried that she has pain, but instead, why. As I did with Jon Lester and Alex Rodriguez over the past two weeks, I did a Google image search to see what I could come up with to complete a postural analysis. Wow, were the pictures telling. Here are just a few that I wanted to share with you.

First of all, notice how much higher her left shoulder is positioned here compared to her right shoulder, which is the surgical side (you can also see the shoulder elevation/disparity in the above video):

While it may appear that she’s leaning to one side, thus causing her left shoulder to appear higher than her right, here is more evidence pointing to this posture deviation being a true left shoulder elevation. Check these out:

That last picture, which was the Sports Illustrated cover just before the WWC, is very telling. Not only do I see the left shoulder elevation, but I also see that her right hip appears to be elevated. She also has a very wide stance, especially on her left leg. My guess is that her whole left leg is widening out in an attempt to gain stability. I believe all of the compensations are caused by a right hip that isn’t working properly. In addition, her femurs are externally rotated along with her feet. Simply put, this isn’t a functional position.

While her shoulder surgery was deemed “successful”, she still required an injection during the WWC. If the shoulder surgery had truly gotten to the root cause of the torn labrum and bone fragments, why isn’t she pain free? Dr. Andrews, who I would consider to be the leading shoulder surgeon in the nation if not the world, repaired the labrum, removed the bone fragments and stitched her back up. All is well, right? Wrong. She’s still in pain, and I believe it’s because the cause has yet to be addressed. If the approach would have been to eliminate the cause of Solo’s pain, rather than treating the symptom, she’d be pain free now. I’m not saying surgery didn’t need to happen, because I think it most certainly did, but the reason why the symptoms were there hasn’t been addressed yet. Many will try to blame her sport, but I don’t think for a second that it is soccer’s fault. Not one bit. If it were, EVERY goalkeeper should have the same exact symptom regardless of age, gender or skill level.

The key to eliminating Solo’s shoulder pain is to first and foremost eliminate her shoulder elevation and then get her hips back in balance. We have to retrain her muscles what their functional job is, so that they can return her structure back to its design blueprint. Amazingly, she’s nowhere near as good as she can be, and she’s the best in the world right now.

Congrats to Hope and the rest of Team USA! Hope, when you’re ready to get healthy, I’d love to talk.

QUESTION: What dysfunctions have you noticed in an athlete, and how has that impacted their performance?