One thing I have learnt is that if you don’t look after your shoulders, sooner or later they are going to let you down. It’s not their fault; they’re just a dodgy design. In the designer’s defence, the specification was quite demanding.
“We want a joint that can turn 360 degrees in any direction; we want to be able to wave our arms about, throw things as far as we can, lift heavy objects, swing from our arms from side to side, do hand stands occasionally, hang from our arms when climbing, oh yes, and I would quite like to be able to reach behind me without difficulty.”
And just to make the design even more demanding, I would like this joint to be low maintenance as well!
Which is where most of us go wrong! Your shoulder joint is not low maintenance. If you put that many demands on a joint you need to look after it. So what does looking after a shoulder joint involve?
Exercise! Whether you are using your shoulders for sport or just normal day to day activity the best way to keep them healthy is exercise. The part of your shoulder that you really need to focus on is your rotator cuff. This is a group of four small muscles that help hold your shoulder in place and also help with that all important rotating movement that we enjoy; hence the name.
These four muscles form a cuff around the shoulder pulling the humerus (upper arm bone) into the socket of the shoulder joint. They are the key to healthy shoulders; they take the strain whenever we lift something, they pull the shoulder together, stopping it from getting dislocated whenever we put it under load.
They are also the part of the shoulder that is most at risk of injury and an injury to the rotator cuff can be devastating, putting you out of action for several months.
Interestingly, if you damage a rotator cuff, the therapy will involve virtually the same shoulder therapy exercises that would have prevented the injury in the first place. These aren’t difficult muscles to exercise, you don’t need to join a gym and start pumping weights, these are small muscles and gentle exercise is all they need to stay in shape and keep your shoulders healthy.
By focusing on exercising the rotator cuff muscles you can also significantly strengthen your whole shoulder. Weight lifters often find, for example, that they hit a plateau when it comes to training. By exercising and strengthening the rotator cuff muscles specifically, some weight lifters have reported as much as a thirty per cent increase in overall performance. Think of the rotator cuff as the weakest link in a chain; the chain being your shoulder. If you strengthen the weakest link, you strengthen the chain.
So start shoulder strengthening exercises today. Ten minutes a day, three or four times a week will wake up those muscles, make you stronger and stop you suffering the shoulder injury that affects nearly eight million Americans every year.