One of the most complex joints in the human body is our shoulders. Compared to joints such as the knee or elbow – which can only flex and extend – our shoulders are the most flexible joint in the body, allowing quite a bit of free movement. Our shoulders are a complex arrangement of ligaments, tendons, and muscles keeping the bones in place, creating a delicate balance of free movement, allowing the joint to flex, abduct, adduct, internally rotate, and externally rotate. Sometimes we forget just how important our shoulders are in that they allow us to reach overhead, to the side, across the body, behind the back, and everywhere in between.
However, their incredible flexibility also makes them the most commonly injured joint, as almost every one of us will experience some kind of shoulder issue during our lifetime. Therefore, the shoulder’s uniqueness and complexity make it the joint with the greatest range of motion and with the least stability.
Understanding our shoulders
The shoulders are composed of four different joints. These joints connect the upper arm, shoulder blade, and collarbone. To allow the bones to swing, swivel, and twist, there is a network of at least 17 muscles, along with tendons and ligaments working together, making those motions happen.
When our shoulders work well and are in shape, they allow us to do our daily activities easily – hanging a picture on the wall, lifting a heavy box, swinging a golf club, or placing something on a high shelf.
What causes shoulder issues?
There can be a variety of reasons for shoulder problems. However, the most common cause of shoulder pain is rotator cuff tears. The rotator cuff provides stability for the shoulder and comprises four small muscles and tendons. If a tear occurs, it weakens the shoulder, making it difficult or painful to lift your arm overhead, even doing routine things like getting dressed or brushing your hair.
Other common causes of shoulder problems can include osteoarthritis, tendinitis, impingement, shoulder instability, or a fracture.
People who sit at a desk job all day or if a person is leaning over for long periods, such as when reading, can put their shoulder in an awkward position. Over time, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments get out of shape and unbalance the force in the shoulder, making us vulnerable to an injury if we push, pull, lift, or carry something.
Signs of a shoulder that has lost strength can be when a person feels pain in the back of the shoulder blade and along the sides of the shoulder. Often, it can be an activity with your arms raised above your head that makes you notice a problem.
Preventing shoulder injuries
Like any joint or muscle in the body, our shoulders need a regular workout to prevent stiffness, soreness, or injury from inactivity. To keep our shoulders in good working condition, here are some stretches to try out:
- Cross-body stretch – Gently pull each arm across your chest. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Lateral walk-ups – Stand next to a door or wall and use your fingers to slowly walk your arm upward.
- Shoulder blade squeezes – While sitting or standing, push your chest out and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds.
Do these stretches daily, along with shoulder-strengthening exercises, to minimize the possibility of a shoulder injury.
Below are other lifestyle habits to adopt for good shoulder health:
- Practice good posture
- While sleeping, lay on your back or side
- Avoid carrying a backpack or purse over one shoulder
- Use a foot stool or ladder, lessening the shoulder strain and having to raise your arm above shoulder level for very long
- When lifting heavy objects, hold them close to your body
- Take frequent breaks from repeated activities
- When reaching for something, keep your thumb up.
Anyone with existing shoulder pain or disability should talk to their doctor or their physical therapist before trying out these moves to make sure they are appropriate for them.
If you have had shoulder pain lasting more than four to six weeks, if the pain gets worse at night, or if it prevents you from doing normal daily activities using your shoulders, make an appointment with a doctor to check the issue out. The sooner you address a possible shoulder injury, the better to prevent further damage.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.