HOW TO PREVENT SHOULDER INJURIES
Giving high-fives. Putting on clothes. Reaching for a glass in the cupboard. Changing bedsheets. All of these simple acts become extremely difficult when dealing with pain from a shoulder injury. The shoulder’s anatomy is very mobile; however, because of its high mobility, the shoulder is relatively unstable and extremely susceptible to injury.
With almost two-thirds of the general population reporting to have experienced shoulder pain at some point during their lifetime, it doesn’t hurt to introduce preventative shoulder pain exercises into your routine. That’s why we at CORE Physical Therapy have put together a few simple yet beneficial exercises that can help improve your overall well-being.
What Can You Do?
Supply strength and support to your shoulder blade. An excellent way to prevent shoulder injury is to strengthen the muscles that provide stability to the shoulder blades. Think of the shoulder blade like a golf tee, with the head of the arm bone like a golf ball resting on the tee. When the shoulder blade is unstable, the whole shoulder complex becomes more unstable, creating a bigger risk for injury. Several muscles control the movement of the shoulder blade (see Table 1 below). Should you strengthen all of them? The answer is, surprisingly, no. The muscles of the shoulder complex work in teams to produce coordinated actions, and research shows that imbalances between the muscles often lead to altered shoulder mechanics, which can lead to a shoulder injury.
Do not over-activate your upper trapezius muscle.
Oftentimes, the upper trapezius is overly active while the other muscles are relatively dormant. Prolonged sitting, desk work, stress, and lack of postural awareness contribute towards the upper trapezius working overtime. Over-activation of the upper trapezius with little to no activation of the surrounding muscles has been shown to contribute to shoulder and neck pain.
Activate the serratus anterior and lower trapezius.
It takes practice to turn down activation of the upper trapezius and incorporate the other neglected shoulder blade muscles. The serratus anterior (highlighted in orange in the photo above) is an often-underused muscle that has gained a lot of attention in research over the past several years. One study by Bdaiwi et al. 2015 found that acromiohumeral distance increases with contraction of serratus anterior and lower trapezius. For example, when you sit at your computer or on the phone, your shoulders may drift up towards your ears. This activates the upper trapezius muscle. When you squeeze your shoulder blades back and down, bringing your shoulders away from your ears, this reduces the activation of the upper trapezius and activates the serratus anterior and lower trapezius muscles. Strengthening these muscles is crucial in the prevention of the most common pain disorder of the shoulder, subacromial impingement syndrome. This painful disorder accounts for up to 65% of shoulder pain in primary care.
The Bottom Line
Exercises that focus on increased activation of the serratus anterior and decreased activation of upper trapezius can help promote healthy shoulder mechanics to prevent shoulder injury, improve posture, and reduce neck pain. At Core Physical Therapy, our therapists know which exercises are best to treat shoulder pain, making you feel better, sooner. Contact us today to get started with one of our therapists.