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Keeping Your Shoulders Healthy

Find out what activities can cause shoulder problems and learn how to keep your shoulders strong and healthy.

By learning how to protect your shoulders, you increase your chances of enjoying a life free from shoulder pain. Sounds simple, right? But how do you do this? It helps if you understand at least a small bit about how your shoulders work.

Why the anatomy of the shoulder is special:

Your shoulder isn’t just 1 joint. Your shoulder actually contains 2 separate joints! Let’s explain each of these joints so that you understand them.

First, there is a ball-in-socket joint. This joint has an amazing range of motion, allowing your shoulder to rotate in a circular motion as well as allowing your arm to reach for objects behind of, in front of, and to the side of you. This joint is protected by and controlled by strong muscles called the “rotator cuff.” If a person ever gets injured and disconnects this joint, it is referred to as a “dislocated shoulder.”

The second is called the AC joint. This shoulder joint is where your collar bone connects to your shoulder blade (some people refer to this bone as their “wing” but the scientific word is scapula). The fancy name for this joint is the “acromio-clavicular joint (or AC joint). This joint has 3 strong ligaments which allow shoulder motion while keeping the shoulder stable. If a person ever gets injured and disconnects the AC joint, this is called a “separated shoulder.”

It is important to protect the bones, muscles, and ligaments that are inside the shoulder. If you overuse one or both shoulders, without giving the joints inside time to rest and heal, you can cause serious damage. The first step in protecting your shoulders is to understand what types of activities can harm your shoulders. Whenever your shoulder is used to repeat the same kind of motion over and over, you risk damaging the ligaments, muscles, and protective lining of shoulder joints.

Activities that can injure your shoulders if done too often:

  • Using a computer mouse. Ergonomics play an important part with this, as well as if you are using a laptop, desktop or tablet. If you keep the mouse far from your body and are having to reach for it, you make your shoulder work harder than it needs to. You also risk damaging the biceps tendon in front of the shoulder. Keeping your elbow close to your side while using the computer mouse can alleviate some of the stress on the shoulder.

  • Using power tools. When using a power tool, vibrations in the hand can travel to the shoulder and irritate the shoulder joint. Prolonged use of power tools can cause shoulder weakness and injury. While using a power tool, try to keep the tool in front of you, pointed away from you, and close to your body’s midline. It’s best to use good biomechanics, using your body’s weight to stabilize the power tool instead of just using your shoulder and arm muscles.

  • Sports which move the shoulders while your hand is holding or throwing something: tennis, baseball, softball, hockey, shot put, deadlifting, lacrosse, football, basketball, javelin, bowling, etc. These type of activities can harm the shoulders if you don’t give yourself enough time to rest your arms.

  • Interior and exterior painting. When painting for several hours at a time, it’s helpful to use tools that prevent you from needing to reach or bend too much. Have the paint store prepare some of your paints so that you don’t need to stir so much of it. Limit the amount of time you need to use a ladder to avoid injury. Telescoping painting equipment will help you to avoid working for long amounts of time with your arms above your head.

  • Playing console games and PC games. Sitting in a crouched position for long gaming sessions can cause irritation to the tissues inside the shoulder. Many gamers are at risk for shoulder tendonitis, bursitis, and shoulder inflammation. Consider investing in a gaming chair and gaming keyboard that helps position your shoulders, wrists, and arms. Pay attention to your ergonomics. Take a break from gaming if you begin to feel tired.

  • Walking the dog. When your dog tugs at the leash or bolts unexpectedly, your shoulder can become sore and irritated. You can try to alternate which arm you use to walk your pet. You can also experiment with different types of leashes and work on training your dog for “loose leash walking” to remove some of the strain on your shoulder.

  • Woodworking. Use of vintage woodworking tools as well as use of modern tools can harm the shoulders if you don’t give your shoulders time to rest.

  • Shoveling and raking. These are often seasonal activities (gardening, raking leaves, shoveling snow). People can harm their shoulder if they either move the shoulder too quickly, or if they shovel/rake for several days in a row.

  • Playing a musical instrument. Musicians can damage their shoulders if they play for too many hours at a time without stretching or resting their shoulders. Especially at risk are: professional musicians, members of a marching band, members of touring bands, and music instructors. Musicians who transport large instruments in heavy cases can also put stress on the shoulder muscles.

  • Childcare (lifting infants and small children). Parents and childcare workers who must pick up and carry small children can harm their shoulders if they rely too much on their shoulder muscles rather than their back and leg muscles.

  • Certain vocations: carpentry, plumbing, butchering, electrical work, construction, delivery driving, stocking shelves, massage therapy. People with these careers risk over-using their shoulders. If they have this career for many years, they have a greater likelihood of shoulder injury.

How can you reduce the chance of getting a shoulder injury?

Pay attention to your shoulders. Be aware of situations that could cause over-use of the shoulder muscles. Be mindful of your posture during certain activities (i.e. being on the computer, home improvement projects, spring cleaning). For example, don’t quickly twist to remove an item from the back seat of the car. Try not to lift a pet, couch, or heavy box when your arms are angled away from your body. Keep what you are lifting close to your center of gravity.

Stop an activity if it begins to cause pain. If you are gardening or working on the car and suddenly you notice discomfort in your shoulder, stop doing the activity. Take a break for a couple minutes and try to figure out why your shoulder hurts. Should you stand differently, or use a different angle for working? Maybe you should just stop and resume the activity in a couple hours or the next day.

Take breaks. As mentioned above, taking a break can let your shoulder relax and heal. Schedule breaks when you are involved in a large task.

Stretch before activities. Some people only stretch before they exercise. However, any time you are planning on using your muscles for several hours doing strenuous activities, you should stretch. For example, stretch before spring cleaning, yard work, cleaning the garage, or doing extreme Christmas light decorating.

Chiropractic can help. Keeping the shoulder in proper alignment helps prevent shoulder injuries. Shoulder pain can be reduced with chiropractic adjustments. Speak with your chiropractor about your shoulders, especially if shoulder pain stops you from sleeping comfortably.

Learn some exercises to strengthen the shoulders. Strengthening the shoulders increases shoulder stability. By strengthening the shoulder muscles, you protect the joints inside the shoulder. This can reduce the likelihood of injury. You can speak with a workout trainer to learn what exercises are recommended and to make sure that you have proper form while exercising.

By taking care of your shoulders, you will be able to sleep more comfortably in bed and be able to participate in recreational activities with your family and friends. It’s better to start now than waiting until you have a shoulder injury. The younger you are when you begin to take care of your body, the longer it will remain strong and healthy.

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