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Taking Care of Your Shoulders

If you’ve ever had a shoulder injury, you know how important it is to take care of your shoulders. And if you haven’t had a shoulder injury, consider yourself lucky—and then learn how to take care of this important joint so that you never have to find out how debilitating it is to be without it.

The Shoulder Joint
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, which allows for a wide range of movement. This mobility, however, comes with a price—a lack of stability. The only attachment of the shoulder joint to the axial skeleton is with the clavicle. There is very little bone or ligament support in the shoulder joint. In fact, you can think of the shoulder joint sort of like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee—not very stable. In contrast, the hip joint is another ball-and-socket joint that can accommodate weight bearing and stress more easily.

Why Should You Care About Your Shoulder Joint?
Think your shoulder joint doesn’t matter? Remember that the next time you need to close the trunk of your car, pick up your child, or reach for something on a shelf. You need a healthy shoulder joint to perform many activities of daily living—not to mention a lot of the activities you choose for fun, such as mountain biking, tennis, swimming, or yoga.

Unfortunately, most people wait until they’re faced with a shoulder injury to pay any mind to the shoulder joint. Here’s the problem with that approach: shoulder injuries have a tendency to develop gradually, usually as the result of muscular deficiency. Sure, some shoulder injuries happen instantly—such as dislocations or sudden tears—but more often than not, a shoulder injury builds over time.

Preventing Shoulder Injuries
If you want to avoid being sidelined by a shoulder injury, think prehab rather than rehab. The shoulder is held together by musculature, so correct muscular development is critical. In terms of shoulder strength, most people automatically think about the deltoids and the trapezius muscles. Those muscles are important for moving big weight, but real shoulder function depends on the supporting muscles. The shoulder muscles you should get to know well are your rotator cuff muscles. A common acronym for the muscles of the rotator cuff is SITS which stands for:

  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres minor
  • Subscapularis

If your eyes glaze over at the sight of these muscle names, don’t fret. You can strengthen the appropriate muscles with a little time, little to no weight, and small movements. Want healthy shoulders for life? Start with these simple exercises:

Scapular Wall Slides: Stand with your back to the wall and maintain contact between the wall and your head, hips, and back. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and place your forearms against the wall (think touchdown). Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slider your arms up the wall until your hands are overhead. Maintain contact with the wall the entire time.

Scapular Push-Ups: Assume a plank position. Keep your arms straight and then retract and protract the shoulder blades, allowing the chest to move up and down about 1-2 inches. This is a very small range of motion.

Shoulder Dislocates: Use a flexible band, a broomstick, or even a towel. Hold both ends with straight arms in front of your hips. Keeping your arms straight, raise them up and over—so they go behind your head and reach your hips behind your body. Then reverse the movement and bring the arms forward the way you came.

Want to learn more about taking care of your shoulders? Dr. Tony Buoncristiani will give a free lecture on Tuesday July 16 in the Zenergy lobby at 5:15 p.m. He will review basic anatomy, shoulder problems, exercises, and prevention.