Shoulder on. Take the weight of the world on your shoulders. Stand shoulder to shoulder. Such is the importance and prominence of the shoulders that they are accorded such symbolisms and meanings. The word shoulder also stands for taking on the weight of something and it’s not surprising. The shoulders are involved in just about any movement of the upper body whether it’s lifting a grocery bag, moving some furniture, painting the house, hurling a baseball, or even just typing on your computer.
The shoulders are the most mobile, most moveable joint in the body with a great range of motion. They are also highly complex, and highly dependent on the tendons and ligaments for stability, the same characteristics that make them highly vulnerable to strains, fractures, and other injuries.
In Australia, shoulder pain is the most common cause for seeking medical care, at some point in the recent past accounting for 1.2% of all presentations to general practitioners. Shoulder issues are not just limited to athletes or active people as shoulder injuries and pain afflict everyone regardless of age and coming from all walks of life.
Some common causes of Shoulder Injuries include the following:
- Participation in sports and recreational activities: may be due to overuse, repetitive strain, trauma, excessive motion, or use of poor technique in exercise or physical activity
- Ageing-related biological changes: wear and tear, deterioration of bones and joints among older adults
- Falls: may cause trauma and fractures, one of the most common shoulder injuries among older adults
- Poor posture: slouching whilst sitting at your desk or scrolling through your smartphone can weaken the shoulder muscles and lead to nerve impingement.
- Shoulder instability: stiffness of the shoulder muscles, ligaments, and tendons may cause the shoulder to become unstable within the shoulder joint.
When it comes to shoulder pain, the most common reasons include rotator cuff tears, osteoarthritis, impingement, tendinitis, instability, or fractures. A lot of shoulder pain issues stem from the tearing of the rotator cuff — four small muscles, and tendons made up of the Infraspinatus, Supraspinatus, Subscapularis, and Teres Minor — which helps stabilise the shoulders and gives you the ability to lift your arms and reach overhead. An imbalance in the strength and mobility of any one of these muscles can lead to an injury. When that happens, even day-to-day activities such as pulling off a shirt or reaching for the top shelf of your cupboard can become painful and challenging.
6 Tips on How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries
Some measures to ward off shoulder injuries include strengthening your shoulders, making them flexible and mobile, as well as avoiding extreme movements.
- Work on your flexibility and mobility – Though used interchangeably, mobility and flexibility are two different qualities or characteristics used in discussing shoulder health. Mobility refers to the ability of the joint to move through a full range of motion while flexibility is about the ability of the muscles, soft tissues, and joints to stretch, lengthen, and contract through an unrestricted range of motion. Do daily stretches. Take up yoga. Practice Qigong.
- Strengthen your shoulders: building up the strength of the muscles of your shoulders can help make them stable and ward off injuries
- Engage in moderate-intensity activities: exercise is good but don’t overdo it and use correct form. Start slowly and up your intensity gradually.
- Warm up before an activity: walk in place for 5-10 minutes or do jumping jacks. Warming up prepares your body for the activity and reduces the likelihood of incurring an injury.
- Improve ergonomics at home and at work: lay out your furniture and tools in such a way as to avoid excessive reaching, reaching over your shoulders, or moving the shoulders using extreme flexion and abduction.
- Eat a healthy diet and get enough calcium, protein, and vitamin D: keep your body, bones, and muscles healthy by eating a diet with veggies, fruits, legumes, and seeds, plus some poultry and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Studies suggest that adults require 1000 to 1200 milligrams of calcium daily, 600-800 international units of vitamin D every day, while daily protein requirements can be calculated by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36.
How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries In the Gym?
Training your shoulders to help prevent injury is a step in the right direction. However, it is prudent to observe some precautions and not get carried away with the weight you can lift:
- Go slow: use well-controlled and slow movements.
- No behind-the-neck presses: if you’re doing barbell shoulder presses or machine pulldowns, make sure never to lower the bar behind your head as it puts the shoulders in a very vulnerable and unnatural position.
- Observe good posture: when doing shoulder exercises either sitting down or standing up, keep your chest up with elbows forward and lower back straight. If you’re standing up, use a foot stance that is shoulder-width apart.
- Warm up and stretch: it bears repeating that properly warming up and stretching before exercise or any sports activity can help keep injuries at bay
Exercises for Shoulder Injury Prevention
After warming up for 5 to 10 minutes to increase blood flow to your shoulders, you can perform these flexibility exercises using a minimum of equipment:
- Arm swings: stand tall, arms to your sides. Stabilise your core and swing your arms forward as high as you can without raising your shoulders. Return to the starting position. Repeat for a minute.
- High & low rows: using a resistance band (alternatively, you can use a cable machine at the gym), kneel on one knee while grasping the band with one hand, letting the other hand rest at your side. Engage your core as you pull the band toward the body making sure to squeeze the shoulder blades. Return to the starting position, then repeat for 8-10 repetitions. Do the same for the opposite side using your other hand.
- Flyes: hold light dumbbells in your hands, stand shoulder-width apart, then slightly bend forward. Stabilise your core and extend your arms away from the body, making sure you squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Return to the starting position, then repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
You can also do these mobility stretches to prepare your shoulders for the strengthening exercises to follow:
- Cross-body stretches: stand with a shoulder-width stance. Put your right arm at shoulder height, place your left hand on your right elbow, then pull the right arm across your body, and hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat using the opposite side, then, do the movement up to five times.
- Door stretches: Stand with a shoulder-width stance in a doorway. Put your right arm up at shoulder height, placing your palm and forearm on the doorway, lean onto the stretch, and hold for 20-30 seconds. Do the same for the other side and repeat 2-3 times.
- Yoga child’s pose: kneel on a mat with your body in an upright position. Crawl forward with your arms extended in front, looking downward. Lower your torso onto your thighs with your forehead lowered on the mat. Hold for at least three breaths, then go back to the starting position and repeat up to 5 times.
After doing mobility and flexibility exercises, it’s time to do strengthening exercises to help build up your rotator cuff. You don’t need heavy weights or complex exercises to do this, focusing instead on control of the movement and the right technique. Here are four exercises you can do:
- Shoulder external rotation: using a resistance band attached to a stable object such as a doorknob, hold the band with your elbow bent and at your side. Pull your elbow straight and backward. Return to the starting position, then repeat for 8-10 repetitions, making sure to squeeze the shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Do the same for the opposite side using your other hand.
- Standing rows: using a resistance band attached to a stable object such as a doorknob, stand while holding the band with your elbows bent at 90ª, and raise them to the height of your shoulders. With your shoulders and elbows level, raise your hands in line with your head. Return to the starting position, then repeat for 8-10 repetitions, making sure to keep the elbows aligned with your shoulders.
- Shoulder abductions: stand with a shoulder-width stance, stabilise your core, and keep your left arm at your side. Straighten your right arm and slowly raise it until shoulder level. Return to the starting position, then repeat 8-10 times. Do the same on the other hand using your left arm.
- Shoulder circles: stand with a shoulder-width stance, stabilise your core, and bend your upper torso slightly. With your left arm anchored on your left thigh, keep your right arm straight, then rotate it clockwise 3 times, then counterclockwise 3 times. Shift to the left arm and do the same movements.
How to Exercise with a Shoulder Injury?
If you have sustained a shoulder injury, it may be best to rest. Alternatively, you can do light exercises or stretches such as the ones we’ve outlined above to help avoid worsening impingement issues. Again, consult your health expert to come up with a treatment program to properly rehabilitate your shoulder. The good news is that most chronic shoulder injuries and pain issues can be resolved from 1 to 6 months from onset, especially with early intervention.
4 EXERCISES TO HELP
1. Shoulder External Rotation
2. Standing Row
3. Shoulder Abduction
4. Shoulder Circles
Notice: The information provided here is general in nature. It does not consider your individual circumstances. The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate accurate exercise techniques. It is not meant for self-diagnosis or self-management of your particular medical condition. Should you experience persistent discomfort or challenges when attempting an exercise, please consult a qualified Exercise Physiologist and Physiotherapist for guidance. You can reach out to our experienced Allied Health Professionals at 1300 090 931.
Get support from our Allied Health Experts
The shoulder is an important part of the body despite its relatively small size as it is central to upper body movements we use in a lot of daily tasks – from lifting groceries to reaching out for stuff stored high up on a shelf. Vulnerable to biological and physical changes, your shoulders should be trained for stability and mobility to prevent injuries.
Unsure of where to begin with regard to shoulder injury prevention? Or do you have nagging shoulder pain and need guidance on how to properly rehabilitate it? Feel free to consult our Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists in Hurstville or in any of our other locations on how to go about your shoulder exercise program or rehab. Book an appointment today or learn how we can be of help by calling 1300 090 931 now.