Protecting Your Shoulders as You Build Your Fitness

The shoulders are the most mobile joint in the body, with the ability to move 180 degrees. They take on a great deal of responsibility in our everyday tasks, especially in our workout regimes, and move almost every time we do. Due to their frequent usage and importance in daily movement, they’re highly vulnerable to injury and can take a long time to heal. For the same reason, shoulder injuries are often the most frustrating to accept and manage. Luckily, there are practices that help both avoid these injuries, heal problems before attempting to fix them with surgery, and ease the pain following an injury.

  1. Posture

The complexity of the joints and surrounding muscles around the shoulder requires a lot of stability to avoid incident. The more stable the shoulders, the lower the injury risk. Maintaining good posture is key to stabilizing the shoulders.

Many of us spend most of the day hunched over, sitting at a desk, looking down at a phone or driving, creating tightness in the chest and weakness in the back, says Karena Qu, a physical therapist based in New York, per Mind Body Green. She notes that “putting yourself in better upright posture positions the shoulder complex better so that when you go to move the arm, you get less stress on the tissues.”

  1. Rest

Listen to your body. If your shoulders become sore after an activity, sometimes the worst thing you can do is overstretch or continue to work through the pain. It may be helpful to try meditation or a mindfulness practice through an app such as HeadSpace or Insight Timer to calm the nervous system and redirect attention.

  1. Strengthen

Many injuries are the result of repetitive movements, and from too much arm motion above the head. Be mindful of this and take breaks when doing activities like painting or focusing on overhead movements at the gym.

Eccentric muscle action, also known as braking contractions, or negatives, occurs when a muscle opposes a stronger force and reverses its initial trajectory. This type of strength training is known to increase size, strength and stability, as well as decrease the risk of injury. (Learn more here.)

“Evidence suggests that eccentric training may offer a greater anabolic response at the tissue, which is needed for recovery and repair,” says Morey Kolber, PT, PhD, associate professor in the physical therapy department at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, per Daily Burn.

  1. Stretch

“Stretching is important after exercising because when you use a muscle, it contracts and shortens,” says Karen Skolnik, MSPT, a physical therapist at the Infinity Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City. “In order to maintain flexibility and proper body alignment, it is essential to stretch.”

The Takeaway

Ultimately, these tools for preventing and easing shoulder injuries are useful even for those who feel that they’re just fine how they are. It’s always better to take extra care to the body, instead of paying for it later. That being said, these are just a few examples of ways to protect the shoulders, and there is no one size fits all. If the pain persists, it may be best to seek out professional help from a physical therapist.