If you don’t have this pain, I’d still listen up to avoid this in the future. Why? Because shoulder pain is only second to back pain in terms of numbers. Up to 67% of the population experiences some kind of shoulder pain in their lifetime. About a third of the time, pain from overhead movements, like shoulder press and pull ups, is due to shoulder impingement. A striking 45% of athletes that play sports, like volleyball, have shoulder pain.
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball is the top of the arm bone, or humerus, and the socket is part of your shoulder blade, or scapula. In between the surfaces of the ball and socket are many structures like nerves, tendons, and ligaments. When your shoulder is lifted and rolled forward more than it should be, there is less space for these soft tissue structures. They get irritated when compressed, causing pain. You pinch or impinge one or more of these structures every time you now raise your arm overhead.
Why it happened and what you can do about it.
Here are a few of the main reasons my patients have shoulder impingement. Here are also tips on what you can do!
1. Poor Posture.
Humor me and slump as if you are a 16 year old teenager playing video games for 12 hours straight. Notice where your shoulders are. Now fix it. Roll your shoulders down and back (without arching your back). Think about this posture when you are lifting your arm overhead. Don’t allow your shoulder to come up to your ears. Instead, think about tucking your shoulder blade back when you reach up.
2. Poor Mobility.
Lack of joint mobility and tightness in the back of the shoulder can limit your range of motion. When you move your arm up and down, the ball (humerus) part of the ball and socket joint needs to roll and slide appropriately for healthy shoulder movement. Sometimes the humerus can get stuck slightly upward in the socket and not glide downward nicely when you raise your arm. Also, studies show that the capsule, or the suction cup that holds your shoulder in place, can become tight and cause less mobility. A physical therapist can mobilize your shoulder to get more range of motion. Something you can do today at home is to use a tennis ball to roll out the back of your shoulder.
3. Poor Muscle Strength.
The rotator cuff muscles’ prime function is to hold the humerus in the scapula’s socket. The muscles are like the ropes that hold bamboo sticks (bones) together. When these deep stabilizing muscles of your shoulder are weak, you’ve lost this supporting function. You can imagine that things would start to fall apart. So other muscles that cross the shoulder and neck have to take up the slack and work overtime to compensate for this weakness. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles helps build this support system back to your shoulder.
Overall, improving posture while gaining more mobility and stability in the muscles and joints resolves much of our bodily aches and pains. Shoulder pain is especially debilitating since we need to reach overhead for so many of our daily activities. Don’t feel limited by your pain and see a PT for this as soon as you can to get personalized advice, manual work, and a home exercise program suitable for your body type.
Up next in the series is knee pain. Stay tuned!