Racing With A Shoulder Injury: Kenny Noyes Speaks From Experience

Ever since Valentino Rossi joined Ducati, the burning question of just how competitive the Desmosedici GP11 is has been clouded by Rossi's shoulder injury. The weakened shoulder - a result of training accident in which Rossi hyperextended his shoulder, fixed by surgery in November of 2010 - has made it very difficult to judge how fast Rossi could be on the bike if he could ride the Ducati unhampered by his shoulder. As a consequence, debate has raged among fans and pundits over how much or Rossi's deficit to put down to the shoulder, and how much to the bike.

Such shoulder injuries are relatively common in motorcycle racing - at Qatar, the list of riders recovering from post-season shoulder surgery was alarmingly long - as being thrown from a moving motorcycle at speed almost invariably causes some kind of damage to shoulders, arms and hands. Add to this the fact that the shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body, and certainly the one with the largest range of motion, and you begin to understand just how big an effect a shoulder injury can have.

To gauge the extent to which a shoulder injury can slow a rider up, we spoke to Avintia-STX Moto2 rider Kenny Noyes at Qatar. The American had surgery on his shoulder at the beginning of December 2010. The operation, carried out by Dr Armengol, took a bone graft from Noyes' hip and placed it in the shoulder, to reinforce the ligament connection. The rear labrum ligament was broken, and the rest of the shoulder joint was unstable, and the surgery was aimed at restoring that stability. The injury is broadly similar to, though slightly more severe than the problem suffered by Valentino Rossi, and the repairs carried out are comparable.

Noyes' surgery was a success, but the problem is the period required to recuperate fully. Even for a sportsman such as Noyes, who is in outstanding physical conditions, the recovery will only be 100% complete some six months after surgery. Until then, Noyes has to deal with pain, weakness in the shoulder, and, most difficult of all, the sudden disappearance of strength in the joint once it becomes tired.

"My shoulder's painful, but you just grit your teeth and forget about it," Noyes told, "The worst thing's not the pain, though, it's the lack of strength; I can't make the bike change directions. I get to to the point where I want to flick the bike in, and it's like everything happens in slow motion, and I end up missing my apex."

The precise control that is needed to exploit the full potential of a racing motorcycle is just missing, as is the strength to correct mistakes. "It's hardest during qualifying, when you really want to push for an extra couple of tenths," Noyes explained. "You start to push the front, and normally you'd be able to catch it. With this injury, you can't save the front." 

But racing, too, offers its own set of problems: "It's not so bad at first, but then the strength just goes in one go," Noyes said. "Qatar was the first time I've done more than 10 laps in a row on my shoulder, and it lets you know all about it."

The cancellation of the Japanese Grand Prix, scheduled for April 24th but now postponed to October 2nd, comes as a blessing in disguise for Noyes. Once the Jerez MotoGP round next weekend is out of the way, another month of recovery, doing stretching and light physical exercise to build up the mobility and strength in the joint, should see the American back to something near full fitness at the subsequent race at Estoril in the first week of May. 

Whether a nine-time World Champion like Valentino Rossi or a relative newcomer to the MotoGP paddock like Kenny Noyes, a shoulder injury is not a trivial problem. Recovering fully requires surgical expertise and dedication in physical rehabilitation, but most of all, it requires time. This is not an injury where you step back on the bike and go racing again, now matter how many world titles you have to your name.


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At last some common sense concerning shoulder injuries to 'all' riders..Though no two are the same..I did wonder why Kenny Noyes looked to be struggling..

Thanks David..

. . . there is a MAJOR difference between pushing a Moto 2 bike to its limit vs a Moto GP bike! Thanks for the interview.

If Rossi is truly struggling and netting a top 10 then Noyes struggling leads him to also rans.

Pushing a moto2 may take a little less energy but the intricate finesse to be fast is no different. The Moto2 class is made up so that the one that makes no mistakes wins and if you are not in top shape you lose.

I think the problem most people are having with the Rossi saga is that it's all you hear about in the media. I haven't heard anything about CC's shoulder and he put his satellite bike on the third row first time out.

Yes I understand that every shoulder is different, and the Duc is no doubt an animal to ride. But it's all we seem to be hearing about lately, and unfortunately for Ducati - Valentino's shoulder doesn't explain why every other Ducati on the grid is simply making up the numbers (or why Hayden is so far behind his times from last year.. being a test-rider for Rossi aside..).

Stoner was apparently the worlds biggest whinger when he couldn't make it onto the podium out of sheer exhaustion and illness.

Everyone well and truly knows about Rossi's shoulder now, so why don't Ducati, Vale, JB and the rest of the world just stop whinging about it and crack on with doing what they can to get competitive again. We don't need daily updates on how many tenths the shoulder would cost him if he raced this afternoon.

Crack on chaps. Just get on with it.

Rossi has said sense he was un-muzzled by Yamaha in January that his shoulder was worse than expected and that it would take longer... Til may.

He's not making excuses, nor playing mind games (for once)- it's simply the way it is... You've likely never experianced a should injury and surgery - they're very difficult and tedious to rehab (and yes I have done it).

Rossi can't simply ignore the press - he has to say something. Everyone heals a bit different - as David points out in his article with Noyes - riding with a duff shoulder is hard - especially sinse it loses strenght all at once.

Yes, cal did a great job - so did Rossi. The comp. is far stiffer this year, the hondas are scary fast, and Rossi and Co. Have their work cut out.

I say let them race and let's see what happens.... and let's all enjoy..

you will never hear riders like Pedrosa, Lorenzo or Spies (or Crutchlow if you include riders with less media exposure) complain as much about their injuries. They keep it private, even during interviews. Going as far as estimating how much tenths it makes you lose and updating this value everyday is simply ridiculous.
For Spies and Pedrosa most of the time no one even KNOWS when they are riding injured. Crutchlow has been nursing this injury for 1 entire year and barely anyone knew about it until the annoucement of his surgery.
Even Lorenzo in his "canonball" years never used his multiple fractures as an excuse and mentionned them much less than Vale.

The question is also muddied by media exposure. Rossi is the highest-profile rider in the world, and he is also always asked about his shoulder by journalists. Even if he wanted to keep it quiet, he wouldn't be able to. You don't hear so much about Crutchlow's shoulder because he doesn't get interviewed as often and there's not as much media attention on him.

Obviously Rossi is the highest profile rider but even taking this into account my feelings are that his shoulder problem is much more exposed than it could be.
Seems to me there is not a linear dependance between injury talk and media exposure, rather an exponential one (Lorenzo and Pedrosa remain high profile riders, even with less media appeal than Rossi and they talk much less about their health issues).

Does Rossi feel obliged to quantify in tenths the loss due to his injury because of journalists threatening him with a sharp mic or does he simply like to do so?

That's a really good comparison. It would be fair to say that journalists make polite enquiries about Crutchlow's shoulder, but they grill Rossi about the possible consequences of his injury. Rossi quantifies the damage in tenths because he's asked by journalists to do so every time he speaks. The Italian press is under a lot of pressure to find an explanation for his problems, and his shoulder is one of those explanations.

frenchie - there is a pretty interesting story in Australian Motorcycle News attempting to quanify VR's popularity. The writer used "the way young people do - we asked Google."

VR is way ahead of the his MotoGP rivals, but perhaps surprisingly, he is way ahead of Michael Schumacher, leading the writer to suggest that considering what car firms have paid Schumacher, VR is relatively a marketing bargain.

So I guess he is going to be asked a lot more questions, a lot more often, especially in Italy, where expectations mean he carries a huge weight on his shoulders.

Great idea to conduct this interview !

Regarding the Rossi + Ducati press cocktail, I suspect :

1) Reunification of Italy anniversary slightly rising already huge expectations because of added national pride in the everyday italian life these times (tv shows, press... ?)

2) Most folks like the thrill of seeing a star rising, but past some point, let's face it, some folks get their thrill in seeing stars falling - and Rossi has been on top for a long time. The sharks were already blood thirsty in '07 and even '08, and he gave them a run for their money... but I feel a resurgence of some awkward hunger, because sadly everything has an end, and Rossi's end will be spectacular and huge. The whole Ducati adventure might be the supernovae bursting before the Cold Black Hole ie the retirement of The Doctor, leaving, indeed, MotoGP very very cold.
I really hope Rossi can hold the sharks & wolves at bay one more time.

I hope VR can pull it off.. but the thought occured to me earlier in January that Hayden might actually be faster than rossi on the Duc.

Turns out not to be true, but, even if the bike is great he might not have the guns to do it. Stoner's on another planet, Jorge is extremely motivated, and then Spies and Simoncelli....

I hope VR can pull it off, but it's quite possiable that he won't... More than anything I just hope for great racing this year (I thought Qutar was excellent race as were the last few races last year).

I am unwilling to write VR off but it will be extremely interesting to watch and I will!