Shoulder pain is a common symptom for athletes and office workers alike. These simple exercises can improve flexibility and prevent future injury.
The shoulder’s complex structure makes it susceptible to injury, especially from one-too-many many weightlifting exercises. Whatever the cause of your pain or discomfort, the healing process often involves physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
Be sure to consult a doctor before beginning a physical therapy regimen, as shoulder pain can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, like impingement or a rotator cuff tear. The following exercises offer gentle stretching and light conditioning to get you on the road to recovery.
1. PENDULUM EXERCISE
The pendulum exercise can help you recover from a shoulder injury, as it encourages blood flow and develops your range of motion. To get started, stand near a table with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Place the hand of your uninjured arm on the table, then bend over and let your injured arm dangle toward the floor. Shift your body weight in order to create movement in the arm: forward and back, side to side, or in a small circle. Do not engage your shoulder muscles, but let the arm swing freely.
Start with 30 seconds of motion, a few times per day. Over the next few weeks you can gradually increase to several minutes of movement. You can also do a variation of this exercise on a bed if leaning over is hard on your back or neck, though you may need someone else to set your arm in motion. As your recovery progresses, you may be able to use light dumbbells to further stretch the shoulder — but be careful not to engage the muscles and risk re-injury.
This exercise targets the rotator cuff, building strength in the scapula and rhomboids to prevent and relieve pain. It can also help strengthen your back and improve your posture.
Stand with your feet below your shoulders, core engaged and knees at a slight angle. With a light dumbbell in each hand, palms inward, raise your arms out in front of you in a broad V shape. Then slowly draw your shoulder blades together. Be careful not to raise your arms above your shoulders. Hold this position momentarily, then lower. Repeat about ten times, for three sets.
3. EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL SHOULDER ROTATION
The rotator cuff muscles that allow for internal rotation are the supraspinatus and subscapularis. These let you draw your arm forward, with your palm facing in, and are commonly used in gym exercises and everyday life. Overuse causes these muscles to tighten, often leading to pain.
To begin strengthening the rotator cuff, you can practice a simple towel stretch. Grasp a towel or strap with your right hand and drape it over your right shoulder so it hangs down your back. Your right hand should be level with the back of your head, or lower toward the back of your neck if it’s comfortable. Turn your left arm behind your lower back with your palm facing behind you as you raise your left hand to meet and grasp the bottom end of the towel. Don’t force the stretch, but spend 15 to 30 seconds just at your point of flexibility. Try three repetitions on each side, and over time you will be able to bring your hands closer together at your back.
The external rotator muscles in the rotator cuff are the infraspinatus and teres minor. These typically get less training, which can create an imbalance and eventually lead to pain. To strengthen these muscles, use only one- or two-pound weights until you are able to easily add more, one pound at a time. Lie on your side, with your upper arm at a 90-degree angle, elbow against your side. Slowly rotate your forearm out and up, to your side, drawing your shoulder blades together until your palm faces forward. Hold for two seconds, then lower down. Repeat 10 times on each side.
4. SHOULDER RETRACTIONS
There are a number of exercises that involve shoulder retraction, and they all aim to correct a slumped posture. If your shoulder blades, or scapulae, are constantly hunched forward, it can affect how you use your shoulder joint, lift your arms, and stand. Poor posture can even affect the blood flow and nerves in your arms and hands, and make it harder to breathe by collapsing your chest. You should perform shoulder retraction stretches as much as possible to counteract these effects, and build up the muscles to help prevent shoulder pain.
To begin this exercise, stand straight, arms at your sides, with your shoulders relaxed. Pull your shoulder blades down and back, without arching your back. Hold this for 5-10 breaths, and repeat 3-5 times.
For a more targeted exercise, lie facedown on a mat, resting your forehead on a towel. Hold your arms straight out at your sides, palms down. Use your shoulder blades to lift your arms off the floor, holding this position for a few breaths.
EXERCISES TO AVOID
As you perform these exercises, keep in mind that shoulder pain can have many underlying causes, and without a doctor’s diagnosis you risk exacerbating the issue. Take your time when introducing new exercises into your routine to give your body time to adjust. To avoid further damage, be sure to start with no weight or very light weights for any strengthening activities.
You should also avoid exercises that are counterproductive to the healing process. Stay away from common gym exercises like dips, upright rows, overhead presses, and lat pull downs done behind the neck, which can put stress on the neck and shoulders.
If you’re suffering from shoulder pain, you may want to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. At CompOrtho, specialists will help identify any underlying conditions that may be causing you discomfort.
If you’re a weightlifter, don’t ignore an aching shoulder. Follow our tips to prevent and treat these three common conditions.
Experiencing shoulder pain while weightlifting? This might be a sign you need to take a step back and re-examine your form. Here are some ways to prevent your slight twinge from turning into a serious injury.
Weightlifter’s shoulder, or distal clavicular osteolysis, affects the collarbone where it meets the shoulder blade at a point known as the acromion. This joint is very flexible, and therefore one of the least stable in the body. Stress over time can lead to micro fractures on the end of the collarbone.
If you have weightlifter’s shoulder, you may experience:
- Dull aching
- Tenderness or sharp pain when you press on the area
- Weakness or stiffness
- Pain after exercising
- Pain when you extend the arm across to the opposite side
Weightlifter’s shoulder can be avoided with good training practices. It is usually caused by overdoing shoulder extension exercises like bench presses, dips, or push-ups. When you work out, be sure not to use too much weight and give your muscles time to recover in between training sessions. Have a trainer check your form, and be careful not to push through when you’re experiencing pain. To build up your shoulder strength, try out the “Blackburn” exercise.
If you are suffering from weightlifter’s shoulder, the condition may respond to conservative treatment. Take a hiatus from lifting weights, ice the area, and take anti-inflammatory medications. Your doctor may suggest corticosteroid injections along with physical therapy. If surgery is needed, your doctor can perform a minimally invasive procedure using small incisions to remove about a centimeter of your collarbone, which will help eliminate pain and restore your range of motion.
Shoulder impingement affects the rotator cuff in the upper arm. Each time you raise your arm, you create less space between the tendons and the shoulder blade. Over time, the shoulder blade’s acromion may begin to irritate the rotator cuff or its bursa sac.
Motions that use the rotator cuff tendons increase the likelihood of impingement. This includes any sport with overhand motions or exercises that include lifting weights above the head. Many people don’t realize that the mild pain is a sign of impingement, and unfortunately don’t seek treatment until the pain has worsened.
You may have a shoulder impingement if you experience:
- Swelling or tenderness
- Pain whether you’re resting or exercising
- Sharper pain when lifting or reaching
- Weakness and loss of motion
- Difficulty reaching behind your back
There are several ways that you can prevent this condition. If you’re just starting a training plan, add reps slowly and trade off between push and pull exercises to build both front and back muscles (i.e., for every pushup, do a row). Avoid overdoing exercises where the elbow is above the shoulder, like upright rows and shoulder presses, along with lateral raises and behind-the-neck pulldowns. For more stability, activate your lower trapezius muscles before pulldowns by bringing your shoulders down and together.
If you do experience shoulder impingement, we recommend temporarily replacing your weightlifting regimen with physical therapy. Your doctor may suggest cortisone injections as well. These conservative treatments are often sufficient, but if needed a doctor can perform surgery to remove or repair the damaged areas. This can prevent future injury to the tendons, especially if you have bone spurs.
ROTATOR CUFF TEAR
A rotator cuff tear affects the muscles and tendons that cover your upper arm bone, keep it in the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, and help you lift and rotate your arm. The stress of weightlifting can cause a tear as the tendon degenerates over time. Direct impact can cause damage as well — if you try to lift heavy weights with a jerking motion, you could tear the tendons.
You may have a torn rotator cuff if:
- Your pain is worse when you raise your arm overhead
- Pain makes it hard to sleep at night
- You experience weakness and limited motion in your shoulder
- You are unable to hold your arm at shoulder level without dropping it to your side
Here’s what you need to know about the painful but treatable condition called adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder.
Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is an inflammation of the shoulder capsule. This band of connective tissue encases the shoulder joint, so as inflammation progresses, patients experience a restricted range of motion along with extreme stiffness.
While the medical community has not yet been able to pinpoint the exact cause of frozen shoulder, there are a number of conditions that can contribute to its development. These include diabetes, thyroid disorders, and past surgeries on the shoulder or chest.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF FROZEN SHOULDER
Patients suffering from frozen shoulder generally experience moderate to severe pain, inflammation, stiffness, and a limited range of motion in the shoulder.
This condition normally cycles through three progressive stages. These are:
- The “freezing” phase, where the patient experiences increasingly severe shoulder pain lasting from several weeks to nine months.
- The “frozen” phase, where pain in the shoulder decreases but stiffness lingers, lasting from four to nine months.
- The “thawing” phase, where pain continues to lessen and the range of motion in the shoulder slowly improves, lasting from five months to two years.
HOW TO PREVENT FROZEN SHOULDER
Frozen shoulder predominantly affects people in middle age, and it is possible to preemptively avoid this condition — especially if you’ve been diagnosed with any of the risk factors commonly associated with it, like diabetes or a thyroid disorder. The best possible prevention method is to steadily increase shoulder flexibility through stretching, including external rotation, forward flexion, and crossover arm motions.
HOW TO TREAT FROZEN SHOULDER
In many cases, conservative treatments can effectively ease shoulder pain and stiffness. These methods generally include a physical therapy regimen designed to restore shoulder motion and strengthen the surrounding muscles. Most patients will need to undergo a rehabilitation plan for approximately four to five months to ensure a complete recovery.
Sometimes, anti-inflammatories and corticosteroid injections are used to supplement physical therapy. If mobility issues continue, minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery can be utilized to break up and remove scar tissue that has built up in the shoulder, with full recovery occurring in as little as six weeks.
If you think you may be suffering from frozen shoulder, set up an appointment with an orthopedic specialist today. Backed by decades of experience in treating shoulder injuries, CompOrtho Specialists can work with you to develop a personalized recovery plan. Dr. Main and Dr. Gershtenson are top-rated orthopedic surgeons in Southeastern Wisconsin who specializes in the shoulder. Our team of specialists can help you through every step of your treatment, ensuring a quick and complete recovery.