Shoulder pain is common. If fact, it’s highly likely that many of you reading this currently have or have had a shoulder injury, as studies suggest that about 90% of us will tear our rotator cuff, labrum, and/or capsule at some point in time during our lives. So why is this so common? More importantly, what can be done about this?
The reason for the high prevalence of shoulder pain is due to the anatomy of the shoulder. The shallow “socket” allows for the shoulder’s great range of motion, but with this excellent mobility comes a decrease in stability, as a joint can’t be BOTH stable AND highly mobile. So from a prevention standpoint, consider the following: 1) Don’t reach into the back seat to lift your heavy briefcase or purse to the front seat. 2) Take “mini-breaks” when working overhead. 3) Follow an exercise program that maintains strength in your shoulders. 4) Get help when you know the task you’re about to attempt is going to be a challenge. This list could go on and on but the last point is crucial: don’t feel insecure about asking for help with difficult tasks! As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
An important goal regarding recovery from a shoulder injury involves restoring the joint space between the ball and socket joint and the “roof” of the shoulder or acromion process (or “acromiohumeral distance”, or AHD). A shoulder impingement injury typically occurs when this space is reduced, resulting in a tighter fit that pinches pain-sensitive structures when one attempts to raise their arm up over their head.
To reduce impingement, try the popular “pendular exercise” by holding a 5-15 lbs (2.26-6.80 kg) weight so that the arm swings loosely like the pendulum of a clock. The weight pulls the shoulder joint open, reducing impingement. Another exercise is gripping the seat of a chair while leaning to the opposite side (focus on relaxing the shoulder while leaning) to open or separate the joint. The joint can also be opened using elastic therapeutic tape. A 2017 study found that taping over the front and back deltoid muscle from insertion to origin worked best to open the AHD to reduce impingement. Doctors of chiropractic can also utilize manipulation and mobilization to open the AHD.