This article is about the causes and prevention of rotator cuff injuries. The Mayo Clinic states that: “the rotator cuff is made up of the muscles and tendons in your shoulder. These muscles and tendons connect your upper arm bone with your shoulder blade. They also help hold the ball of your upper arm bone firmly in your shoulder socket. The combination results in the greatest range of motion of any joint in your body.”
There are four muscles that make up the rotator cuff and provide stability to the shoulder joint. These four muscles are very small and a lot of work is required from them making them vulnerable to injury. Overwork and excessive use can cause inflammation and pain resulting in tendonitis, bursitis, muscle strain or tear. A good start in preventing a rotator cuff injury is through exercise such as strength training and stretching.
Here are some easy stretches to keep your muscles limber and help prevent injuries:
•Extend your arms out to the side and rotate them in small circles 8 times then change direction. Repeat the exercise, this time with large circles, 8 times in both directions.
•Draw the right arm across the body toward the left shoulder. Cradle it in the bend of your left arm and hold for a count of 8 then repeat on other side.
•Put your hands on your shoulders and circle your elbows 10 times in each direction.
•Draw your shoulders up towards your ears and then roll them back and down. Next draw the shoulders up and roll them forward and back. Repeat for 5 repetitions.
•Take your right hand and reach for the mid shoulder region of your back, your elbow will be pointing upwards. Using the left hand apply gentle pressure on the elbow allowing the right hand to stretch further down the back. Hold for a count of 8 and repeat on other side.
Strength conditioning is important to keep the muscles strong and decrease the risk of injury. Here are some instructions for resistance training to protect the shoulders:
•Use lower weights but higher repetitions
•Start with 12 to 15 reps of each exercise. Use 2 – 5 lb. hand weights depending on what is suitable.
•Gradually add more reps and if that becomes too easy increase the weight, however 5 lbs. should be your limit. You are not attempting to do weight training, only muscle conditioning.
•We often focus on working the front of the body such as the chest and shoulders. Likewise the muscles behind the shoulder, shoulder blade and upper back are just as important and should be worked uniformly. This will provide balanced strength and the muscles will work equally.
•Always warm up before you work out. The stretches listed above provide a good warm up.
•Stick to a strength training schedule 3 times a week.
The most common rotator cuff injuries are caused by:
•Overuse of the muscles
•Degeneration of the muscles and tendons due to age
•Traumatic injury such as a fall or a hard impact
•Lifting something that is too heavy
Some signs of a rotator cuff injury are:
•Pain and sensitivity in the shoulder; you will notice it more if you are reaching behind your back or overhead, lifting, pulling, or sleeping on the injured shoulder.
•Weakness in the shoulder; trouble lifting things
•Noticeable decrease in range of motion of the shoulder
•Maintaining passive use of the shoulder
If you suspect you are suffering from a rotator cuff injury you may want to:
•Get a gentle massage with very little pressure around the tender area. Massage will stimulate the blood flow to the area and increase the healing process.
•Rest. Take some time off from working out. It may take up to a week or more for pain to subside.
•Use ice packs regularly.
•Try taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines.
•Prop the affected shoulder up on a pillow when sleeping.
•See your doctor if pain continues to increase; last more than a week; or you are unable to use the arm.
It’s been said that prevention is the best medicine. Keeping all of your joints strong and flexible will result in an increased quality of life. These are only recommendations and you should always check with your doctor before beginning exercises or adding new exercises to your routine. Be healthy, be happy!
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