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Preventing the rise of shoulder injuries

You might have caught a glimpse of yet another friend proudly posting a photo of completing a physical feat on your Facebook newsfeed. But Like it or not, there’s no denying that the popularity of high intensity sports is on the rise. Forget about marathons – there are Ironman Triathlons (225KM on bike running and swimming) and obstacle-ridden Spartan Races now. But as these sports become more popular, so does a worrying trend of shoulder injuries.

Australian S12 swimmer Jeff Hardy swims freestyle at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games

The rise of shoulder injuries

Given the physical demand of these activities, it’s not surprising that the shoulder sees the brunt of the damage. The shoulder joints have the highest range of movement compared to any other part of the body, this also makes it the most unstable joint as it is held in place only by the rotator cuff.

What is the rotator cuff?rotator-cuff

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles in the shoulder, connecting the upper arm to the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff tendons provide stability to the shoulder and the muscles allow the shoulder to rotate. If these muscles don’t work in sync or congruently, the load will be shifted to other structures, and what usually takes up the bulk of this load are the rotator cuff muscles.

Some first-timers assume that these extreme sports are easy, for others, it’s peer pressure – wanting to perform as well as those around them. In both cases, many push themselves to do just one more rep, thinking that they’ll get greater gains. But like the straw that broke the camel’s back, that is when shoulder injuries usually occur.

How can I prevent shoulder injuries?

Like the saying goes, prevention is better than cure and that is what physiotherapy is – a measure that prevents injuries, optimises performance and rehabilitates injuries. Physiotherapists are experts in the human anatomy, being able to pick up movement flaws that can lead to future injuries. That’s how they get your muscles to move better and work more efficiently to optimise conditions for the body.

Our principal physiotherapist, Chye Tuan who also plays basketball shares a few principles that he follows in order to prevent shoulder injuries.

Dos to prevent shoulder injuries:

  • To focus on your form and proper execution of exercise instead of just counting the number of reps done
  • Incorporate regular stretching exercises in your workout routine to keep joints mobile
  • Cross train or vary exercises to reduce the risk of repetitive strains

Don’ts to prevent shoulder injuries

  • Do not push beyond your body’s threshold
  • Do not ignore pain persisting for more than 3 days as this is your body’s way of telling you that something is not right – No pain no gain does not apply when it comes to your body
  • Do not increase your volume of activity all of a sudden (e.g. golf swings 200 balls at the range instead of usual 100.)

Consider prevention as insurance. Since you’ve already committed to spending time and effort training for the big day, train efficiently and safely as that effort will all go to naught if you get injured. Injuries will bring your training to a standstill and you might have to start from scratch. In the case of races, you will probably have to give the race a miss even though you have already paid for it.

So recognise your limits and seek professional help – if you’re going to participate in these activities, it would be good to check in with a physiotherapist to assess what underlying factors might be a problem in the future. As engineers of the body, physiotherapy will get you to where you want to be – better, faster and safer – based on your body and goals.

References

  1. McLeod, W. D., & Andrews, J. R. (1986). Mechanisms of shoulder injuries. Physical therapy, 66(12), 1901-1904.
  2. Kibler, W. B., Chandler, T. J., Uhl, T., & Maddux, R. E. (1989). A musculoskeletal approach to the preparticipation physical examination: Preventing injury and improving performance. The American journal of sports medicine, 17(4), 525-531.
  3. Braun, S., Kokmeyer, D., & Millett, P. J. (2009). Shoulder injuries in the throwing athlete. J Bone Joint Surg Am, 91(4), 966-978.
  4. Wilk, K. E., Obma, P., Simpson, C. D., Cain, E. L., Dugas, J., & Andrews, J. R. (2009). Shoulder injuries in the overhead athlete. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 39(2), 38-54.

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