Therapy for Shoulder Muscles: How to Prevent an Injured Shoulder
The shoulder muscles surround and support the most complex joint area in the human body, and when we understand how shoulder rotation works, we can take better care of this fascinating joint structure and maximize its potential on the athletic field.
How Does Shoulder Rotation Take Place?
The shoulder muscles and shoulder area actually involve four distinct joints: the glenohumeral, sternoclavicular, acromioclavicular and the scapulothoracic. These connect the collar bone, the shoulder blade and the upper arm, relying on complex intersections of tendons, ligaments, muscle and bone. Out of the four, the joint that receives the most attention is the glenohumeral, the ball and socket structure that actually joins the upper arm to the trunk.
At the intersection of the ball and socket are two anatomical structures that seem to play a role in almost every injured shoulder that occurs on the athletic field. These are the rotator cuff and the labrum. In addition to rotator cuff injuries and labral tears, the tendons, ligaments and nerves of the area tend to get tangled and sometimes pinched in the joints during common shoulder rotation. These are the three most common forms of sports-related injured shoulder problems.
Rotator Cuff Damage
Four shoulder muscles that are small in size but powerful in function extend out from the trunk and curve around the glenohumeral joint, joining together at the point of the shoulder like the arms of a starfish. These amazing muscles provide us with our 360 degree range of shoulder rotation, since they draw the humerous in every direction of the compass as they contract and relax. As we lift, carry, throw, stabilize our balance, or reach in any direction, our rotator cuffs are integral to our ability to carry out that action.
And our rotator cuff shoulder muscles don’t just allow us to move; they also support and stabilize the joint, which can prevent an injured shoulder during high energy activities.
The rotator cuff shoulder muscles can become damaged by anything that strains or unnaturally stretches them, like a heavy object thrown into the arms. An injured shoulder can also happen when these delicate shoulder muscles are deprived of oxygen and nutrients by deterioration or a poor blood supply.
Impingement happens when the tendons and ligaments of the shoulder muscles become caught up or pinched in the structures that allow shoulder rotation. This condition is responsible for about half of all forms of shoulder pain. Impingement happens most often to those who engage heavily in sports that use an overhead arm motion, like swimming and baseball. Poor body mechanics, flawed lifting technique, and bad posture can also cause an injured shoulder due to impingement.
A pad of soft but tough tissue lies between the ball of the humerous and the socket of the collarbone. This is called the labrum, and it plays a crucial role in shoulder rotation by cushioning and supporting the junction between the two bones. But an injured shoulder and significant pain can occur if the labrum becomes torn or inflamed. This can happen during high impact activities or as part of the general damage involved in shoulder dislocation. Labral tears can often be repaired with surgery, but as with the anatomical areas above, the best way to deal with an injured shoulder is to prevent the injury altogether.
Shoulder Exercise Moves that Can Prevent Injury
The labrum and the rotator cuffs can be protected from injury if they’re allowed adequate blood flow and shielded from high impact activities, unexpected trauma, and unnatural torsion or stress. An injured shoulder due to impingement can be avoided if athletes recognize the potential for repetition-induced stress and remain focused on strong technique and body position during every form of shoulder rotation.
In all three cases, a strong shoulder stretch routine before and after any intense shoulder rotation exercise can help. And any shoulder exercise that specifically targets and strengthens the rotator cuff can build a foundation of stability that can prevent an injured shoulder on the field.
A powerful shoulder stretch can be executed with just a simple resistance band positioned behind the back with one arm holding the band from above and the other holding it from below. Check our website for more details on this particular shoulder stretch and several others that can help loosen the rotator cuffs and bring more blood flow to the labral area.
Meanwhile, keep these tips in mind as you engage in any activity that involves shoulder rotation (especially high-energy activity):
1. If your shoulder exercise involves raising your arms above your head, don’t let your extended arms move high enough to pass the level of your ears. If the point of your shoulder is a clock face, then while your arms are under any tension or stress, they should not be pressed into the areas between 8:00 and 12:00. Shoulder rotation can happen in 360 degrees, but this 8:00 to 12:00 area should be considered a danger zone while engaged in resistance-based shoulder exercise.
2. If your sport requires repetitive overhand motion, discontinue your shoulder exercise or training activity if you feel tingling, numbness, joint pain, or burning in the shoulder area. Continuing your shoulder exercise could result in an injured shoulder, which can impede your progress and even require surgery.
3. Warm up the shoulder muscles properly and complete a full shoulder stretch before you begin any workout that taxes the rotator cuffs. Tennis, rowing, swimming and baseball all require sustained pressure on the shoulder muscles, so before beginning any of these activities, make sure the area has access to maximum blood flow and flexibility.
4. Get feedback on your body position during repetitive shoulder exercise moves. You can’t always see what you look like during these activities, and sometimes we don’t recognize poor body mechanics until we’re dealing with an injured shoulder. By that time it may be too late to fully correct the problem. Rely on a coach, trainer, or workout partner to help you keep your shoulder motion in line.