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Tips to Prevent Shoulder Injuries this Summer
As the weather gets warmer, thoughts turn to getting outside and playing. Whether that is kayaking, swimming, pickleball, tennis or golf, all of these activities can place significant stress on the shoulder.
The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body, allowing you to place your arm in many different positions. But this flexibility makes it highly susceptible to overuse as well as injury.
Prevention is Key
One of the easiest ways to prevent injury is to make sure that you do not go from zero activity to playing sports every day of the week. This can often lead to injury. If there is a particular sport that you enjoy playing, focus on flexibility and strength specific to the sport, rather than simply playing every day. If you are uncertain how to do that, seek out advice, search for conditioning programs online, or if you belong to a gym asking the trainers for advice.
The other way to keep your shoulders healthy is to focus on both strength and flexibility. Prior to having any type of injury, include exercises not only for your deltoid muscle but also for the rotator cuff and muscles of your shoulder blade. Many people do not realize it, but the muscles of the shoulder blade are very important in shoulder function. Keeping them strong and flexible, as well as maintaining a good posture – keeping your shoulders back and away from a rounded position – will assist in keeping you pain free.
What to Do if you Have an Injury
There are many different types of shoulder issues. If you have a traumatic event – like a dislocation – you should always go to your orthopedist to have the shoulder checked. If your pain begins a bit more slowly, perhaps with a bit of overuse, there are options before making the trip to the doctor.
You never want to try to push through the pain. If you are experiencing any soreness or difficulty with activity you need to take some time off. The key to recovery are the basics – resting, stretching, icing and taking an anti-inflammatory medication, if your doctor allows it.
Often, stretching exercises followed by strengthening exercises can assist in getting you back to your baseline. There are numerous sites that can help you with this – here is a link to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery’s recommended exercises: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00663.
If your pain does not resolve within two weeks of resting, icing, and stretching you should make an appointment with your doctor.
The two most common problems I see in my practice are:
- Rotator cuff: The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help to keep the ball of the shoulder centered in the socket. They are very important in any activity the shoulder does. When you get inflammation in the tendons of the rotator cuff, as well as inflammation in the bursa, you can experience pain with simple motions like getting dressed or reaching overhead, and it can wake you up at night. The pain typically goes from the shoulder to the elbow but can involve the muscles of the shoulder blade as well. The key is to try and decrease inflammation by taking anti-inflammatories, if you can, or icing. Also, try to avoid strenuous activity and beginning a gentle stretching program, which you can find at the site mentioned above.
- Osteoarthritis: Arthritis is a common problem that causes both pain as well as stiffness. Many people don’t know that initially the stiffness isn’t caused by the arthritis itself but by stiffness of the tissues around the shoulder. Under your rotator cuff muscles is a layer of tissue called the capsule. When you have arthritis, it gets thickened, leading to stiffness. Stretching overhead, behind your back, and out to the side can significantly help this stiffness allowing you to continue to play many sports.
By varying your activities and by doing sport-specific training with a focus on flexibility, you will be able to avoid most injuries. Make sure to focus on all of these aspects to maintain an injury-free lifestyle. Not only will focusing on all areas help you to avoid injury, it will also likely improve your play.
Gita Pillai, MD, is Board Certified in Orthopaedic Surgery by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons. She received her medical degree from the University of Maryland Medical School and was Fellowship Trained in Shoulder and Elbow Reconstruction at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. She completed her Orthopaedic Surgery residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. For more information on Beebe’s Orthopaedic Services, go to https://www.beebehealthcare.org/patient-care-services/orthopaedic-services-beebe.