As it warms, and the summer descends upon us, many turn to outside activities. Many of these activities cause, contribute to or exacerbate shoulder injuries. The shoulder is one of the most moveable joints in the body. As a personal trainer, I have noticed an inordinate number of people seeking assistance with shoulder strengthening. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, approximately 4 million people seek treatment for shoulder strain, sprain or dislocation. Moreover, shoulder problems are attributable to roughly 1.5 million visits to orthopedic surgeons each year.
I have boxed and been involved with martial arts for a great part of my life. I learned the hard way that the heavy bag, such as those used at popular kick boxing gyms can significantly cause injuries to the shoulder. Also, for example, many people have fallen from bicycles and injured their shoulders. Improper use of free weights can cause such injuries as well.
So what is it about this shoulder? Actually, it is a very complicated rotational joint in the body. The shoulder joint is comprised of three bones: the clavicle or collarbone, the scapula or shoulder blade and the humerus, or the arm. Bones of the shoulder are held in place by muscles, ligaments and tendons. Tendons are tough cords of tissue which attach muscles to bone and assist the muscles to move the shoulder. Although tendons are tough, they are slowest in healing.
We have all heard the term "rotator cuff." The rotator cuff is made up of tendons, which merge with the muscles, holding the ball of the humerus at the top of the shoulder socket. This provides mobility and strength to the joint. Whew!
However, to remain stable, the shoulder must be anchored by its muscles, ligaments and tendons. Problems arise from the overuse or under-use of the shoulder. How can you under-use the shoulder? Well, non-use of the muscle causes atrophy and stiffness. Sudden use of these stiff muscles results in shoulder strain.
Okay, so what about the torn rotator cuff people talk about? Many people have claimed that once they experienced a rotator cuff injury, their shoulder pain is chronic. Traumatic falls, such as the bicycle mentioned above, and sports activities can result in an injury to the rotator cuff. Moreover, when the rotator cuff is injured or weak, the shoulder joint works abnormally, which compromises other muscles, such as the neck and the upper back. If the rotator cuff is injured, additional movement may result in additional strain, causing tears in the rotator cuff.
How do we deal with a shoulder injury? Foremost, lay off heavy shoulder exercises. No push-ups, no heavy boxing bag, no bench press or exercises which utilize the shoulder as the primary movement. Obtain an exercise band, and tie one end to a post or equally stable object. Stand alongside the post with the arm closest to the band against your body, elbow bent at a right angle. Step away from the pole until modest resistance is achieved. Then, with the bicep rigid, move the forearm across the body. Repeat 10-12 times. Also, using a light (3-5 lb) weight, hold with arm straight at your side. Keeping a straight arm, raise the weight in front of you, no higher than your shoulder. There are various other corrective exercises for shoulder injuries. It is suggested that you consult a certified personal trainer or chiropractor for assistance.
While shoulder injuries can be painful, patience and proper rehabilitation will assuage the discomfort and allow you to return to comfortable activity. Be patient. These injuries can take a while to heal properly.
Photo by Janice Chan