The healthy shoulder joint allows us to move our arms a full 270 degrees in range, which no other joint can do. When you consider the shoulder’s range of motion and its complexity, it’s no wonder that this joint is particularly prone to injury. However, there are some steps you can take to help prevent shoulder damage.
The anatomy of the shoulder involves not only the ball-and-socket type glenohumeral joint that most people are familiar with (which allows for a wide range of movement), but three other joints as well, all supported by tendons and ligaments. These four joints are composed of the glenohumeral, scapulothoracic, acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular joints. The two clavicular joints are not very mobile, so injuries to these are often the cause of shoulder complaints. But because the glenohumeral and scapulothoracic joints have such a wide range of motion, the supporting tendons and ligaments are more prone to injury.
The shoulder is susceptible to two types of injury: overuse injury and traumatic injury. Overuse injuries are common in athletes and workers who practice repetitive motions that involve the shoulder, particularly activities where the shoulder is raised above the head. These activities include tennis, swimming, weightlifting, pitching, construction work, house painting, and even gardening. Bursitis and tendinitis are the most common overuse injuries of the shoulder. Symptoms include shoulder pain, weakness, and a loss of range of motion. Symptoms may be worse at night and when using the shoulder for overhead activity.
Traumatic injury of the shoulder typically occurs due to a fall or blow to the shoulder, which often happens in the course of contact sports. These can cause a sprain or strain to the supporting tendons and ligaments of the shoulder, rotator cuff tears and dislocation of the shoulder.
The best way to prevent a shoulder injury is to strengthen the upper body. An upper body exercise program can help the shoulder achieve the strength and flexibility needed to be able to hold up to repetitive motion and withstand the force of impact. Some simple exercises you can do at home twice a day to improve strength and flexibility include the following:
- Basic strengthening – Attach a length of elastic tubing to a doorknob and gently pull it toward your body. Hold for five seconds and repeat five times with each arm.
- Shoulder press-ups – Sit upright in a chair that has an armrest, with your feet flat on the floor. Use your arms to slowly raise yourself from the chair. Hold for a count of five and repeat five times.
- Wall push-ups – Stand two or three feet from a wall, facing it with your hands on the wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Perform a push-up against the wall five times.
- Shoulder Rotation – Bring your fingertips to the top of your shoulders with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Slowly start drawing “circles” with your elbows, starting with small rotations and gradually becoming larger. Once you have done them clockwise, then switch to doing counter-clockwise circles.
Your chiropractor can recommend additional shoulder-strengthening exercises for you to practice at home. Done correctly, these will reduce the likelihood that you will suffer an injury to your shoulder joint.