Enthusiastic workouts at the gym after the holidays can be blighted with shoulder injuries if we’re not careful. Make no mistake, we can just as easily cause harm lifting heavy boxes, paddling a canoe or mowing the lawn or trying to save ourselves when falling.
The fact is that the shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body. What we need to understand is that the more flexible the joint is, the less stable it is and more easily injured. We need to protect such vulnerable joints to prevent shoulder injuries and knowledge is the first step.
The Anatomy of the Shoulder
Two main bones meet at the shoulder – the humerus – upper arm bone and the scapula or shoulder blade. The round end of the humerus, its ball joint, fits perfectly into the socket joint of the shoulder blade. Keep all this together are groups of muscles, ligaments and tendons. There are many working parts, all of which can become involved in shoulder injuries. But let’s press on a bit more on our tour of the shoulder.
The glenoid is a shallow socket forming a cradle as it were, for the head of the arm bone. The capsule is a sheet of fibres surrounding the joint. The synovium lines the capsule producing fluid to lubricate the joint and prevent the bone ends from rubbing up against each other. The cartilage acts as a cushion for the bone ends so they can move without pain.
Stretching or overusing the muscles and ligaments past their normal limits causes instability and the shoulder injuries we know only too well, especially when we’re trying to work our Deltoids, right? Weightlifters pay attention! “The most common kind of injury to the rotator cuff in casual lifters is something called rotator cuff tendinitis, an inflammation or swelling of the tendons connecting your muscles and bones in your shoulder, says Lawrence V. Gulotta, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
The most susceptible muscle group and tendons that attach the arm bone to the shoulderblade, providing it with its fabulous mobility, is known as the rotator cuff. Shoulder injuries in this group of four muscles are felt when raising and rotating the arm. If the tendons take strain to the point of tearing, the humerus doesn’t move smoothly in the socket. The shoulder doesn’t have a great blood supply which is why shoulder injuries are not so easily mended.
In Shoulder Injuries, an Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
“The rotator cuff and deltoid muscles are antagonists and should always be worked out in combination with each other,” says Dr Gulotta, quoted above. Commenting on the propensity for shoulder injuries here, Gulotta warns that “failure to do so may lead to imbalances around the shoulder that cause tendinitis from overuse of the rotator cuff… the most common way people tear their rotator cuff while working out is when they do not pay attention to their form while trying to get one last rep in. The one thing they all have in common is that the main muscles lose control due to fatigue, putting a lot of stress on the rotator cuff causing it to tear.”
Focussing on maintaining good form for the duration of any heavy lifting, use safe weights and less volume goes miles to preventing rotator cuff stress leading to shoulder injuries.
Building Associated Muscle Groups Prevents Shoulder Injuries
Let’s take a look at the exercises needed to build up other associated muscle groups that act to strengthen and protect vulnerable joints like the shoulder:
- Stronger supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus and teres minor muscles will protect the Rotator Cuff. Their exercises are; flexions, extensions, internal or external rotations, abduction, and adduction cable pulls and 45-degree scaption.
- Well exercised anterior, middle and posterior deltoids should be encouraged by front and lateral raises and rowing.
- The latissimus is worked with frontal pull-downs – remember to avoid going behind the head on these.
- Both major and minor pectoralis muscles are tones with push-ups and bench presses.
- The major and minor rhomboids are strengthened with rowing.
All in all, warming up sufficiently, keeping lifting movements slow and controlled with feet a shoulder-width apart will prevent shoulder injuries as you start building up your reps after taking a break from the gym.