With pitchers and catchers reporting for duty, people cramming in marathon gym sessions before spring break, and warm weather making people more active, I can guarantee the number of people seeing doctors, athletic trainers, and physical therapists for shoulder pain will soon rise. Luckily, one cause of shoulder pain, shoulder impingement, is often avoidable with some reasonable preventive strategies.
Shoulder impingement occurs when the structures passing through a small arch formed by the bones surrounding your shoulder become inflamed. This inflammation can cause the structures to swell and be easily irritable in a tight space, which makes motions like reaching overhead painful. This can motions, like reaching overhead causes that space to narrow, meaning it can squeeze/impinge those inflamed structures. Ouch! Luckily, following some of the guidelines below can help prevent you from being one of those people.
The top cause of shoulder impingement is doing too much too soon. If you’re looking to get in shape fast before the weather warms up to beach temps, make sure you’re ramping up your training at a reasonable rate. Every worthwhile workout regiment should have some sort of introduction phase. If you’re just starting to exercise, seek the advice of a personal trainer. If you’re trying something new, like Crossfit for example, look into trying their on-ramp classes. Or, if you’re returning to baseball or softball, slowly increase your pitch counts. No matter what path you choose for your health, there is a smart way to get started.
Balance Your Muscles
The second likely cause of shoulder impingement is muscle imbalance. The muscles in the back around the shoulder blade are often neglected while people tend to focus on developing the muscles in the front of the shoulder and chest (because you see THOSE muscles in the mirror). This can lead to an unstable shoulder blade that affects the way your shoulder works, which will predispose you to inflammation. An easy rule of thumb to help prevent these imbalances is to train every upper body push exercise with a pull exercise. That means that if you do a pushup, do some rows. If you do an overhead press, do some pull-ups.
Watch Your Posture
Another cause of shoulder impingement is poor posture. Throughout the day, we slouch forward in our chairs which causes our shoulders to round forward. This positioning reinforces some bad shoulder movement that can easily lead to inflammation. Focusing on keeping your chest open, shoulders back, and shoulder blades stable will go a long way towards improving your posture. In fact, this previous post has some great exercises to help improve your overall posture.
Keep Inflammation Under Control
This next tip may seem like common sense, but it’s often overlooked. Keeping small amounts of unavoidable inflammation under control is integral from letting a little irritation become impingement. A good rule of thumb is to apply ice to your shoulder for 20 minutes after a tough workout. Making sure you get proper rest is probably the most important factor in inflammation control. That means getting good sleep at night and taking the right amount of time off between workouts.
This last suggestion is directed more at overhead athletes (pitchers, throwers, etc). Having sound mechanics when throwing is paramount for maintaining your shoulder health. Having an experienced professional analyze your throwing form can help reduce your chance of injury.
As you can see, reducing your risk of shoulder impingement comes down to smart training and proper recovery. Keep those factors in mind and enjoy your healthy shoulders!