Shoulder pain can be an extremely bothersome issue to deal with. Although you may not realize it, you use your shoulder on a frequent basis throughout most days, since it permits many of the movements that involves your arms. So if a problem arises that leads to pain and prevents your shoulder from moving normally, it can become a major burden to your daily life.
As we discussed in our last post, there are many conditions that can produce shoulder pain. In some cases, the cause may be a single, traumatic event like a hard fall to the ground or sports-related injury (eg, rotator cuff and SLAP tears). Other patients will experience a gradual onset of shoulder pain due to repeated damage from overhead activities, which is often the case in rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder impingement syndrome, shoulder instability, and bursitis.
If you’re concerned that you may develop shoulder pain—perhaps because you play an overhead sport or have a job that involves overhead movements—you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to reduce your risk. The good news is that yes, it may be possible to avoid some types of shoulder pain. There is no single, foolproof way to stop all shoulder pain from occurring because many variables are involved, but there are several steps you can take that will lower your chances. Each tip addresses a different aspect of shoulder use, but the underlying message is that you should modify and improve how you move your shoulder to reduce potential stress and strain.
4 Tips To Prevent Shoulder Pain
- Modify your workstation: working at a desk may not sound like a big risk factor, but you could be aggravating your shoulder if your workstation is not set up properly; below are some important ways you can modify and improve your workstation ergonomics to reduce shoulder strain
- Use proper posture: sit with your feet flat on the ground or on a footrest, with your lower back supported, shoulders relaxed, and hands and wrist in line with your forearms
- Take regular breaks: aim for a 30 second “micro-break” about every 30 minutes to shake out your arms and hands, plus longer breaks to give your shoulder a rest every few hours
- Rearrange your desk: keep supplies that you use regularly within easy reach, so you don’t have to twist or stretch to reach them
- Invest in a headset: if you’re on the phone frequently, strongly consider adding a headset
- Limit overhead activities and/or improve your form
- If your profession does not involve regular overhead movements, try to avoid performing these types of activities too frequently in your spare time; when you do, be aware of how you move your shoulder and try not to overreach regularly
- If your profession does involve lots of overhead movements, learn to use proper form during these activities (your physical therapist can help with this), take frequent breaks throughout the day, and switch your arms as often as possible so that the load is more evenly distributed; also try to avoid straining your shoulder when reaching for objects
- Increase shoulder strength: strengthening the muscles that support the shoulder will increase its stability and reduce the risk for pain; below are two helpful examples of shoulder strengthening exercises
- Scapular stabilizing exercise: lie face down with a pillow under your stomach and place your forearms on the floor with your elbows bent at 90°; slowly raise your arms up off the floor as high as possible and hold for 5-10 seconds; slowly return to the starting position; repeat up to 10x
- Doorway stretch: stand in an open doorway and spread your arms out to your side; grip the sides of the doorway at shoulder height, and while maintaining your grip, lean forward until you feel a light stretch in the front of your shoulder; slowly return to starting position; repeat up to 10x
- Improve shoulder flexibility: the more you stretch your shoulder, the better its range of motion will become, and keeping these muscles flexible will in turn help you avoid pain and injury; below is one great shoulder stretch example
- Sleeper stretch: lie on a firm surface on your side with your shoulder under you and your arm extended out; bend the extended arm up into a 90° angle with your fist in the air; use the other arm to push the bent arm down (forearm towards the floor) and stop pressing down when you feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder; hold this position for 30 seconds, then relax your arm for 30 seconds; repeat 4 times, 3x/day
Although following these tips is likely to help, shoulder pain can still develop for a variety of reasons. In our next post, we’ll show you why seeing a physical therapist is the best decision you can make in these situations for safe and quick relief.