About 15 million people went to their doctor last year for shoulder related complaints.
Try to do too much with your shoulders and you’re just asking for problems with your rotator cuff, the group of four small muscles that holds your shoulder joint in place. Twenty years ago nobody had heard of the rotator cuff…but then a bunch of millionaire Major League hurlers were idled by injuries to these pivotal muscles. Suddenly, rotators were big business. But you don’t need to throw a 97 MPH heater to have similar trouble. If you lift weights a few times a week, swim at the “Y” or play softball, you too, are at risk of damaging the rotator cuff.
WHAT CAUSES THE ROTATOR CUFF SYNDROME
The problem has to do with the design of the shoulder. It’s an unstable joint… as unstable as a golf ball on a tee. You must depend on the surrounding tendons to provide stability. Trouble is, those tendons aren’t quite sturdy enough to withstand all the wear we give them. Any kind of repetitive motion that makes heavy demands on the shoulder, whether it’s pitching a softball or reaching up to paint the kitchen ceiling, can gradually wear down the rotator-cuff tendons.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT SHOULDER PROBLEMS?
Of course, the best way to deal with rotator-cuff injuries is to prevent them from happening in the first place. And the best place to do that is in the gym. For example, if you’re prone to shoulder discomfort and work out on resistance machines such as Nautilus or Cybex, try switching to light free-weights for a few weeks and see if your symptoms improve.
Change your grip.
If a standard bench press hurts your shoulder, try using a narrower grip. With a wide grip, the tendon is more likely to come in contact with the bone, causing pain and potentially more damage to the tendon. If you change to a narrower grip, you usually can’t lift as much, but it’s easier on the shoulder.
If you feel pain when you lift a weight higher than shoulder level, stop doing it. Most people with rotator cuff problems are okay having their upper arm parallel to the floor, but if they go higher, it’s going to cause problems.
Some exercises that build your shoulders can also damage the rotator cuff. A prime example is the “behind-the-neck” overhead press… also known as the military press. This is one of the most common resistance exercises that you see people doing in the gym, but if you’ve already got an imbalance in your shoulder, you can develop some serious problems.
Pay attention to pain.
If these or any other exercises make your shoulders hurt, don’t try to work through the pain. The first thing to do is make sure you’re doing the exercise correctly. If your form checks out with your trainer, the next step is to try the exercise using a lower weight. Sometimes, though, there’s no weight at which the exercise is comfortable. In that case, stop doing the exercise and seek our assistance.