By Kevin M. DuPrey, D.O.
As a sports medicine doctor, shoulder pain is one of the most common reasons patients come to see me. Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body, and as a result, the most unstable. When describing the shoulder, I often use the analogy of a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. Here are a few ways to keep your shoulder joint healthy and prevent injuries.
Strengthen Your Rotator Cuff
The most common cause of shoulder pain that I see is the rotator cuff. Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that attach to and help stabilize the shoulder joint during movement. Over time, if the tendons are weak and overused, they can become inflamed, which is called rotator cuff tendonitis. Swelling occurs in the bursa (the fluid-filled sack around the tendon), which is called bursitis. With certain movements, the structures become pinched, known as “impingement syndrome.”
To help prevent this from happening, just avoid moving your shoulder. Just kidding, as that can cause an even more painful condition known as “frozen shoulder syndrome.” A better way to keep your rotator cuff healthy is by strengthening it. This can be done with certain exercises that can be learned from a personal trainer or physical therapist.
Avoid Repetitive Overhead Lifting
Unfortunately, certain sports and jobs require repetitive overhead motion, such as swimming, painting, or if you happen to be a member of the Village People. This recommendation will help you to avoid developing shoulder pain due to impingement syndrome. I recommend keeping your lifting and reaching activities below shoulder height as much as possible. Modifications can be done at the work place or home, such as raising the height of your chair when typing to keep you from hunching your shoulders.
Work On Your Posture
Your mom was right – stop slouching! If you’re like most people, including myself, you know that your posture could be better. As a society, we tend to spend a lot of time driving, at a computer writing blogs, or on cell phones, which all result in a “forward shoulder” position. Even at the gym, many people focus on the bench press and “pec deck” while avoiding things like seated rows. As a result, the 22 muscles that attach to and help stabilize the shoulder blade become imbalanced, which can cause muscle spasm and pain. The medical term for this is called “scapular dyskinesia,” which means that your shoulder blades aren’t moving correctly.
To help this, I’ve found that a good exercise is one called “scapular retraction.” To do this, pull your shoulder blades together, as far as you can, and hold them for three seconds. Repeat 10 times. Doing this exercise a few times per week will help to strengthen the muscles that keep your shoulder blades in proper alignment, which makes it easier to sit up straight. Your mom will be so proud.
As much as I enjoy performing ultrasound-guided corticosteroid injections of the subacromial bursa in my office, I would much rather help you avoid this and other painful shoulder conditions in the first place.
About the Author
Dr. DuPrey specializes in sports medicine and enjoys working with patients of all ages and abilities to allow them to return to the activities they enjoy in the safest and most effective manner. His holistic approach is to look at the whole picture and help prevent future injuries.