The shoulder is indisputably the most complex joint in the body. The arm would be drastically less useful without the range of motion the shoulder provides. Unfortunately, the shoulder’s complexity also means there are countless complications that can impair its function.
Consider this: the shoulder “[was] responsible for sending 7.5 million people to the doctor in 2006,” according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Of those, 4.1 million cases were related to the rotator cuff, the “cuff” of muscles that keep the shoulder in place and assist with its mobility.
It’s difficult enough to complete everyday activities with an injured shoulder, but when you are an athlete, your shoulder is as much a tool of the trade as a paintbrush to a painter or a hammer to a carpenter. And like any good tool, the shoulder needs maintenance and care to work properly.
This article describes exercises that will keep your shoulders strong and flexible. Perform these exercises 2-3 times a week in order to increase your strength and flexibility.
The Biomechanics of the Shoulder
The shoulder may be more accurately described as the “shoulder system,” as the shoulder itself is actually made up of multiple muscles, tendons, and bones. The group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the arm through its full range of motion is called the rotator cuff.
The four muscles and tendons that compose the rotator cuff are:
- Supraspinatus—abducts the arm
- Infraspinatus—laterally rotates the arm
- Teres Minor—laterally rotates the arm and provides stability
- Subscapularis—medially rotates the arm
Exercises to Prevent Shoulder Injury
Exercise #1: Internal and External Shoulder Rotation
This exercise is both strengthens the shoulder and increases its stability. Internal rotation isolates the subscapularis muscle.
To perform internal rotation, either put a towel in between your chest and armpit or tightly press your elbow against your side. Make sure your arm is bent at a 90º angle. While in that position, take hold of a resistance cable or exercise band and, without moving your elbow, bring your fist in towards your sternum. Be sure to maintain control over the band while you reset your arm into the starting position. Make sure all the power comes from your shoulder; do not move your hips or back at all during this exercise.
This is a gentle exercise, so if you feel any pain, stop immediately.
This exercise isolates the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles, and through strengthening and stretching them provides more stability to the shoulder.
External rotation is performed in exactly the same way as internal rotation, except that your hand should start in front of your scapula and rotate outward. To achieve this, you’ll either have to switch the band or turn 180º.
Exercise #2: Wall Shoulder Raises (Also Called Wall Angels or Wall Slides)
For non-athletes, this exercise helps to regulate neck posture, as it helps to fight against the trend of jutting out one’s neck that develops after a long time looking at computer screens. Wall raises strengthen all four rotator cuff muscles, and they also promote good biomechanics in general, which will lead to more fluid movement and increased flexibility.
To perform a wall raise, all you need to do is stand with your back against a wall and ensure that your head, elbows, and hands are all touching the wall. This exercise cannot be performed correctly unless the head, elbows, and hands remain touching the wall at all times. Once you are in position, simply raise your arms above your head and lower them back down. This will be easiest if you slightly arch your lower back. Repeat the exercise until tired.
Exercise #3: Lateral Arm Raise
Lateral arm raises are excellent for athletes because they isolate the supraspinatus muscle, which is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint when you raise your arm above your head. If the supraspinatus is injured, the resulting shoulder impingement is often debilitating for an athlete.
Unlike the other exercises mentioned, lateral arm raises are best performed with light dumbbells. To perform a lateral arm raise, hold dumbbells at your side and keep your arms straight without locking your elbows. Extend your arms straight out and over your shoulders. Once you get above your shoulders, your supraspinatus stops working and your deltoid and trap muscles take on most of the work. If you stop at the shoulders, the exercise is called a scaption.
Build Your Best Body with Beacon
The factors that determine your athletic performance are complex—just like your shoulder. Both depend on a number of factors working together working together in unison. If you would like to get your shoulder back into shape, schedule an appointment with Dr. Robert Rolf at Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Dr. Rolf and his team of certified physical therapists will work together to provide you with a personalized, comprehensive exercise plan to help you achieve your performance goals.