Maintaining Healthy Shoulders in Athletes

This post will cover some of the most important factors in maintaining great shoulder health. To do this, I’ll first explain what you should ask yourself when you start to feel some pain:

  1. Is it an overuse injury?
    • As mentioned earlier, overuse is a common cause of shoulder pain. See what movements have been aggravating your pain and try to minimize those movements as much as you can for a little while. Too much of any one thing is usually never good and avoiding the threat for some time can be all you need to do. This highlights how the majority of shoulder injuries are a form of tendinosis (degeneration) and not a tendinitis (inflammation).
  2. Do you have the necessary mobility and flexibility for your sport?
    • It’s important for the athlete to be able access their needed range (some sports require more than others). As Gray Cook says, “mobility before stability, stability before movement”. If you expose and load your joints in a range that it’s not comfortable with and that you can’t actively attain without load, then you’re predisposing yourself to injury. Work on improving your range-of-motion without load the with a light load before re-engaging in the movement.
  3. Are you bracing and moving the scapulae correctly?
    • When you’re performing shoulder movements, are you properly bracing that shoulder joint? The latissimus dorsi is the primary stabilizer for all pressing movements, so it’s important to keep the shoulders down and back to fully engage them before the movement. This also places the shoulder in a more externally rotated position, avoiding that internally rotated and compressive one.
    • Another movement error is not being able to control the scapulae. For the humerus to maximally abduct, the scapula needs to upwardly rotate. Demonstrating good scapular control is a must for pain-free shoulder movements.
    • Understanding and utilizing these two concepts of proper movement can relieve a lot of shoulder impingement symptoms.
  4. Are your shoulders stable?
    • Just because you can access a range doesn’t mean that that range is stable and that you can control it. Adding light dynamic movements can train the proprioceptive components of the shoulder and aid in creating a stable and reactive shoulder. From there, focused rotator cuff strengthening can further help. These muscles respond very well to traction (such as in a farmer’s walk) and compression (like an upside-down carry) movements.

So, the keys to maintaining shoulder health are avoiding overuse movements, making sure you have the necessary mobility and flexibility for your sport, bracing and moving correctly, and ensuring stability.



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Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

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