Whether your go-to sport is baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball or basketball, they all carry one common thread: dynamic overhead use of the shoulder.
Getting back in the game
Improperly preparing to play before going in full speed can lead to soreness, pain and possible injury. Having a plan and some knowledge regarding shoulders and returning to your activity is important.
The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body and as a result there can be many different causes of shoulder pain. Shoulder pain itself can be debilitating and can cause significant limitations in one’s daily life.
The source of the pain
Shoulder pain may result from a variety of causes, whether it’s a falling injury, straining to reach an object, lifting something heavy, or throwing a ball. Shoulder pain or problems can also be a result of gradual irritation over time.
Areas and structures of the shoulder that can be affected by overhead sporting activities include the following:
Tendonitis/tendinopathy is an inflammation of a tendon. As this condition progresses, it becomes very painful and difficult to move the shoulder.
Bursitis is an irritation or inflammation of the fluid filled sack or bursa that cushions the tendons and joints. When the bursa becomes irritated the shoulder may become painful and stiff.
Arthritis occurs when the tissue or cartilage which protects the joints wears down.
Rotator cuff tear or injury can occur when the muscles that move the shoulder joint weaken or tear, leading to weakness, pain and loss of motion.
Postural dysfunction is a common cause of shoulder pain. The increased use of computers and extended periods sitting often leads to muscle imbalances in the shoulder which over time leads to injury and pain.
Impingement is a common condition of the shoulder where the shoulder tendons and bursa are impinged from the bones of the shoulder, leading to inflammation and pain. This often leads to pain with reaching overhead and lifting, carrying as well as challenges with dynamic overhead sporting activities.
Finding pain relief
If you are experiencing shoulder pain, first, consider the activity you are about to perform and analyze the physical components. Breaking it down into manageable increments where you modify speed, repetition, intensity and range of motion can be the key to preparing your body for moving at your highest level.
However, if you already gave it your all without properly preparing and are now experiencing some shoulder pain, here a few things which may help you reduce your pain and get back to your active summer fun as quickly as possible:
It is important when you are experiencing shoulder pain to limit your activity and rest so your shoulder can heal. Apply cold packs to your shoulder to help decrease pain and inflammation in the joints and muscles. To prevent damage to skin and surrounding tissue, cold packs should only be applied in 15 minute intervals.
If you don’t have increased pain with movement, stretching and increasing the range of motion of your shoulder can help loosen up the muscles in your shoulder and decrease pain.
If your shoulder pain persists, it may be time to seek treatment. Physical therapy consists of hands-on treatment to loosen muscles and joints, soft tissue mobilization, education on proper posture and movement to decrease pain, instruction on stretching and strengthening exercises to restore mobility and strength.
By Derrick Gallant, PT, a physical therapist now seeing patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.
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