Physiotherapy & Shoulder Injuries

Your shoulders are composed of large muscles that regularly exert themselves when carrying, lifting, pushing, and pulling, all movements you will do countless times across your life time. Because of the extent of its use, shoulder injuries are commonplace and often quite debilitating in that a range of commonly used motions are suddenly off the table.

Your shoulder: What makes it up and what gets injured

‘Shoulder’ is a colloquial term used to describe a four jointed system:

  • Linking the shoulder blade (scapula) and upper arm (humerus) is the glenohumeral joint. The muscles surrounding this structure are known as the rotator cuff.
  • Connecting the collar bone (clavicle) and scapula is the acromio-clavicular joint.
  • Joining the clavicle and breast bone (sternum) is the sternoclavicular joint.
  • Finally the so-called ‘virtual joint’ between the chest wall and scapula.

Shoulder injuries will typically involve these joints and any surrounding musculature, specific damage to elements of this system will limit specific ranges of motion. The shoulder is actually capable of a broader range of motion than any other part of the body, able to assume approximately 1600 different positions. Unfortunately, this carries with it a resulting instability that often results in injury.

The most common injury to the shoulder is damage to the rotator cuff, the muscles around the ball and socket joint linking your upper arm to your shoulder blade. This part of the body is typically injured by regular activity or stress that involves raising the arm from below shoulder level to above it.

Physiotherapists and the shoulder: Prevention and treatment

Physiotherapists stress the importance of not overworking your joints, and that means keeping any weight you’re lifting to a manageable level and resting your shoulder often. You should work both your shoulders equally to prevent a functional instability from occurring, and you should also maintain the balance between range of motion and stability. If you have access to a sports physiotherapist, then allowing them assess your dynamic shoulder function is a great way of establishing where and how you should train to prevent injury.

Damage to your rotator cuff typically presents with a recurring ache after any exertion involving an overhead movement. The pain will worsen over time, and if experienced you should seek out a physiotherapist who will assess your joint and the extent of the damage. Your therapist will establish whether there is a need for surgical or medical treatment, and if neither are needed, how to proceed to strengthen your shoulder by way of regular exercise, and increase its stability by practicing broad ranges of motion through exercise or manipulation.

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