As summer approaches, baseball is in full swing. People are playing volleyball on the beach. Swimmers hit the pool. The tennis courts are packed. What do all these sports have in common? They all require the shoulder to bring the hand above the head.
Sports with overhead movement can greatly stress the shoulder. This can lead to conditions like rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingement, frozen shoulder, muscle strains, tendinitis and instability. Naturally, the best way to treat these conditions is not to develop them in the first place, and that means strengthening and stretching the shoulders.
First, let’s talk about the shoulder itself. It’s an extremely complex joint due to how many moving parts it has. The shoulder is a meeting of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and the humerus (upper arm bone). The humeral head fits into a socket called the glenoid that is deepened by a pad of cartilage called the labrum.
Along with these bones are a number of muscles and their tendons. Muscles include the deltoid, trapezius, rhomboid and the rotator cuff (which itself is four muscles and their tendons). The biceps and pectoralis muscles also attach at the humerus near the shoulder.
That all may be complicated, but that complexity combines to give the shoulder unmatched freedom of movement: up, down, around and side to side. No other joint in the body is so mobile. Unfortunately, that mobility comes at the cost of stability, and that many components mean more chances for something to go wrong.
Keeping your shoulders healthy means two things: strengthening and stretching. Strengthening muscles around the joint helps protect the bones, tendons and ligaments while stretching muscles can ensure they don’t get strained or “pulled.”
Let’s start with strengthening. For strong, healthy shoulders, you’ll need to hit them from different angles, and that means mixing up the exercises. Here are some options:
- Lateral raises: Hold a pair of light dumbbells in your hands and raise them straight out to the side until your arms are parallel to the floor.
- Front raises: Hold a pair of light dumbbells in your hands and raise them straight out in front of you until your arms are parallel to the floor.
- Face pulls: This exercise, which works the often-neglected rear deltoids, can be done with a cable machine rope attachment or resistance bands. Stand in front of the pulley or attach a resistance band to a pole, column or doorknob. Pull toward your face, separating your hands as they approach your head.
- Overhead press: The overhead press is one of the best exercises for shoulder strength. It can be done with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or nearly any other tool. Stand or sit, and bring the weight up to your chest. Push the weight up over your head until your elbows lock, then lower it.
- Internal rotation: This exercise (and the next) requires the use of a cable machine or resistance band, which should be secured to a stable object nearby. Sit next to the machine or band and grasp it in your near hand. Hold your elbow tight to your ribs with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. Pull your hand to your stomach.
- External rotation: Sit next to the machine or band and grasp it in your far hand so that the cable or band crosses your body. Hold your elbow tight to your ribs with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. Your hand should be resting on your stomach. Pull away from your body until your forearm is parallel to the floor.
- Biceps curl: This isn’t a shoulder exercise per se but it can help protect your biceps tendon. Stand with a barbell or pair of dumbbells with your arms loose. Curl the weight up with your arms. Try not to use your back at all.
Stretch It Out
Shoulder stretches are a great way to finish up a workout, and they feel great. Try these stretches to keep your shoulders and triceps loose, mobile and pain-free:
- Cross-body stretch: Bring your arm across your chest. Use your other hand to push your elbow toward your chest.
- Finger walk: Stand facing close to a wall. Put your hand on the wall at about waist level and then “walk” your fingers, like a spider, up over your head and then back down again.
- Shoulder rolls: Shrug your shoulders up to your ears, then push them back and down. Do 5 to 10 repetitions, then reverse the direction—push your shoulders back, then bring them up toward your ears, forward and down for another 5 to 10 reps.
- Triceps stretch: Raise your arm over your head, then bend the elbow so that your hand is pointing down your back. With your other hand, push up at the elbow.
As a former college football player, I know the demands athletes place on their bodies. That’s why I’m dedicated to helping athletes and anyone with an active lifestyle continue doing the things they love, by either preventing injury or helping them get better. Request an appointment with me if you have pain in the shoulder or anywhere else, and together we’ll devise a treatment plan that’s right for you.