How to Prevent Shoulder Injury

prevent shoulder injury

The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the human body, with a design that allows us to lift and twist and reach and pull, and a greater range of motion than any other joint. But because there are so many pieces involved in making a shoulder work, there are plenty of ways things can go wrong — making even basic tasks such as getting dressed difficult. If you’d like to protect yourself from shoulder pain and prevent shoulder injury, read on.

Types of Shoulder Injury

The shoulder is made up of two joints (glenohumeral and acromioclavicular) and three bones (scapula, clavicle, and humerus) along with cartilage, muscles, and tendons.

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Whether we’re athletes or couch potatoes, we rely on our shoulders as much as any other joints in our body. Here are some of the problems we might run into:

  • Dislocation — trauma to the shoulder may pull the upper arm from its socket, causing pain, numbness, swelling, and weakness
  • Separation — a hard blow or fall can tear the ligaments of the acromioclavicular joint, knocking the collarbone out of place
  • Fracture — a hit or fall can break the collarbone or the upper arm
  • Cartilage tear — the padding around the rim of the shoulder joint can be damaged by trauma or simply by repetitive movements, leading to pain, weakness, and limited functionality
  • Rotator cuff tear — made up of the muscles and tendons that hold your arm in place and allow you to raise your arm overhead, the rotator cuff is susceptible to damage from overuse or trauma
  • Frozen shoulder — limited mobility can result from the buildup of abnormal bands of tissue, often due to  lack of motion after surgery
  • Impingement — the tendons of the rotator cuff can get pinched by the shoulder bones, leading to swelling and pain
  • Bursitis — inflammation of the fluid-filled cushioning sacs in the joint can result from overuse or trauma
  • Osteoarthritis — the most common form of arthritis, a degenerative joint disease that can affect any joint
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — another form of arthritis that also leads to joint pain and stiffness

While it can be hard to anticipate and avoid a traumatic accident, we have more control over the common repetitive use injuries. The answer, as usual, involves exercise — with the added twist that our shoulder exercises should not be allowed to do more harm than good.

Four Steps to Prevent Shoulder Injury

Stay healthy. To protect your shoulders, your first step is to keep yourself in overall good physical shape. That means you need to exercise regularly (with both cardiovascular and strength training) and follow a healthy diet. Maintain an appropriate weight, keep your muscles strong, stretch for flexibility, and regularly work your heart and lungs.

Listen to your body. Shoulder pain is an indicator of potential trouble. Don’t ignore it, and don’t push through it. When it comes to shoulder injuries, it’s easy to turn a minor problem into something much worse by trying to tough it out. See your doctor or physical therapist if pain persists. Be sure to follow their advice for any prescribed shoulder exercises.

Learn to exercise the right way. Strength training is important for healthy shoulders, but it’s just as important to do it right. Warm-up before you work out. Don’t lift too much weight or too often. Be aware that many popular exercises can put unnecessary strain on the shoulder joint. Learn which exercises are helpful and which to avoid. 

Control your environment. Our jobs often put us in compromising positions that can injure our shoulders. We need to be aware of our daily activities and make adjustments as necessary, especially when repetitive motions are required of us. Continuous reaching and stretching, especially overhead, can lead to major trouble — but so can a desk job when we’re dealing with less than ideal ergonomics. Be aware of the motions we make every day, strive to perform them with good posture, and make changes as necessary to lower their cumulative impact.