Whether you're an athlete or not, shoulder pain is a common occurrence, and it can take a long time to rehab from. Shoulder pain can interrupt the obvious sports participation, but also sleep, getting dressed, driving comfortably and reaching up in your cupboards. We ask a lot of our shoulders - we need full range of motion in all directions, strength to lift and push or pull, and the shoulder blade stability to do it all. If anyone of those things is lacking, it can cause lasting problems.
The shoulder joint depends heavily on the strength and muscle coordination of the shoulder blade and the muscles that support it - in fact, the shoulder is the only joint that doesn't have a true connection to the rest of our axial skeleton. The only bony attachment is at the acromioclavicular (AC) joint! Additionally, there are several other things that can contribute to shoulder pain: the cervical or thoracic spine and ribs, as well as all the muscles that act across your shoulder and neck.
Shoulder pain can manifest in several different diagnoses - but we typically think of rotator cuff or biceps tendonitis, bursitis, frozen shoulder (a stiffening of the ligamentous capsule that holds the shoulder joint in place) or scapular dysfunction. More acute injuries include AC joint sprains or separation and shoulder subluxation or dislocation.
While some of the more acute injuries might be harder to prevent, the following four exercises will help you to prevent some of the more persistent issues described above.
Doorway Pec Stretch
Grab a door frame and start with your elbow at about shoulder height. Be sure to stand with good posture, pull your shoulder away from your ear. Gently lean into the stretch and play with how high or low your arm position is - you should feel the stretch in the front of your shoulder, and it may be different for you day to day. Hold 10-15 seconds and repeat 3-4 times on each arm.
2. Thoracic Extension Mobilizations
Lie with a foam roll positioned horizontally in the middle of your back (too low and it won't feel good). Place your hands behind your head and gently extend back over the foam roll, elbows directed toward the ceiling. Repeat 3-4 times and reposition as needed. You may feel or hear some cracks through your spine, this is good!
You may also extend back over a chair back, if that's more convenient for you.
Start on your hands and toes with your hands directly under your shoulders. Think about pushing the floor away from you so that your shoulder blades spread across your back (do not shrug your shoulders up to your ears). Flatten out your back and engage your core - think pulling your belt buckle toward your chin. Hold this position as long as you can; Quality over Quantity!
Rest, then repeat.
Put a resistance band in your door with the anchor at about belly button height. Start with a backwards shoulder roll to set your posture. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, sliding your forearms along your sides, then pause. Slowly return your arms to the starting position. Complete 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Whether you've experienced it or not, shoulder pain can be a real bummer. Take just a few minutes a day for some specific shoulder work to keep your shoulders in tip top shape!