How to Prevent the Three Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain
The most common cause of shoulder pain: slouching
Slouching for hours a day at your desk can separate your shoulder blades, leading to tightness in your chest and weakness in your shoulder and upper back.
If you don’t correct a chronic slouch, it will eventually affect your posture when not at your desk as well, leading to a vicious cycle where your shoulders become more and more rounded and slumped forward.
Rounded shoulders can result in neck pain, back pain and – most important to this topic – shoulder pain. If your shoulder blades are separated and your shoulders are slumped forward, the actual structure of your shoulder joint changes.
At this point, even normal movements can result in shoulder pain and injury because the shoulder joint’s range of motion has been impeded, while the joint also lacks vital support from the muscles that surround it.
How to prevent shoulder pain from slouching
The most important step is, as you might expect, to reduce the amount that you’re slouching.I’m not saying you should be sitting straight as a board all day either, because that can lead to postural problems and pain as well.
You should change positions throughout the day, slouching sometimes, sitting straight sometimes, relaxed, active, standing, sitting – the less you keep your body stuck in one position, the less likely you are to develop postural problems.
Everyone has a smart phone or even watch on them these days, so set a reminder to go off every 15 minutes to tell you it’s time to change posture.
Strengthening your shoulder and upper back muscles also helps to pull your body out of a chronic slouch and return the shoulder joint to its correct position, while relieving pressure on your neck and upper back.
If you don’t have access to gym equipment, rows with a resistance band can be easily performed at home to improve strength in your upper back and shoulders.
The second most common cause of shoulder pain: overload
If you want to take up a new activity, it’s not wise to throw yourself in the deep end on your first try, otherwise you risk overloading your shoulder.
Let’s use tennis as an example. If you’ve never played tennis or haven’t in some time, jumping into a game at full intensity and swinging your arm back and forth can damage your shoulder because the joint and surrounding muscles aren’t conditioned for that amount of load.
But many overload injuries aren’t a result of intense sports or activities but simple day-to-day movements. Lifting luggage into an overhead compartment, for example, is a common cause of shoulder pain that I encounter amongst our clients.
How to prevent shoulder pain from overload
If you’re going to take up a new activity, you need to give yourself a few weeks to prepare beforehand, breaking down the movements which will be required so that you can train them individually.
Going back to tennis, before even picking up a racket you should first make sure you have a full range of motion in your shoulders and perform some basic shoulder exercises to improve strength and stability.
Then you can perform tennis drills in a controlled environment, doing backhands and forehands against a wall, starting for 5-10 minutes then building up to 20-25 minutes over a few days.
To reduce risk of overload from day-to-day activities, you need to gradually strengthen your shoulder so that a sudden increase in load, such as lifting 25kg of luggage, doesn’t cause damage.
I recommend that this strengthening programme is prescribed by a physiotherapist or functional trainer, otherwise you can easily overload your shoulder in your attempt to prevent overloading it!
The third most common cause of shoulder pain: acute injury
Finally, shoulder pain can be caused by an acute injury, such as collisions in contact sports like rugby, taking a tumble when skiing or falling off a bike.
Acute shoulder injuries include: dislocation; tears to the joint cartilage or rotator cuff; AC joint injuries; and fractures. Swelling and impeded movement in addition to pain are the typical symptoms of an acute shoulder injury.
In terms of prevention, while risk of shoulder injury is reduced the fitter you are, anyone is vulnerable to acute shoulder injuries through simple bad luck. What’s important is that you seek treatment early on to prevent an acute injury becoming a chronic one.
Any injury in your shoulder that shows no sign of improving after a couple of weeks should be seen by a physiotherapist, as untreated shoulder injuries can become more severe and more difficult to treat over time.
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