Overhead athletes tend to have the biggest problems with shoulder pain because they’re constantly putting pressure on the very complex shoulder joint. Overhead sports include baseball, tennis, volleyball, handball, and other activities where participants regularly throw or hit. Sometimes these shoulder injuries cause nothing more than mild, occasional pain. Other times they can lead to serious problems requiring surgery. Even the mildest shoulder pain should be treated with care, as it’s usually a sign of bigger problems to come.
In this article, you’ll discover 3 ways to prevent shoulder pain in overhead athletes. With this information, you can avoid shoulder pain without risking surgery or eliminating sports or certain activities from your life.
The Anatomy of the Shoulder
The shoulder is considered a ball-and-socket joint, which means that it gives a full range of motion. Although a little more complex than the name suggests, the shoulder is essentially a ball in a socket surrounded with ligaments, tendons, and muscles that help it function in that full range of motion.
The complexity that makes shoulder joints so unique and versatile is the same thing that makes them susceptible to injury.
Common Causes of Shoulder Pain in Overhead Athletes
Most shoulder pain is the result of overuse and repetitive stress to various aspects of the joint. Below are a few of the most common shoulder injuries among overhead athletes.
Rotator Cuff Tear
- A tear in the tendons that connect muscle to bone in the shoulder.
- Signs include pain, tenderness, and stiffness at the shoulder.
Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior (SLAP) Tear
- A tear at the labrum where the biceps tendon is attached.
- Signs include a reduced range of motion, pain when lifting arm overhead, and popping or locking of shoulder joint.
- A gradual loosening and stretching of ligaments in the shoulder joint causing the humerus to slip from its shallow socket in the shoulder blade.
- Signs include tingling, reduced shoulder strength, and pain.
Luckily, you can reduce the risk of these injuries and other types of shoulder pain with regular exercise, stretching, proper posture, proper form, and education.
Best Shoulder Injury Prevention Exercises
A 2017 study of 660 handball players showed that a simple, 10-minute routine done three times a week saw a significant reduction in shoulder injuries among the participating athletes. While it’s best to have a professional present to help you with form and performance, you can incorporate the following exercises into your warm-up routine.
Exercise 1: Trunk Twist. 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- Start on your toes and elbows on the floor.
- Push your hands and elbows into the floor and your shoulder blades out and up.
- From this position, move one arm up toward the ceiling, allowing your trunk to twist as well.
- Return your elbow to the floor.
- Repeat with the other arm.
Exercise 2: Standing Y Stretches. 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- Use a resistance band held at waist-level by a partner or wrapped around a secure object.
- Hold the band in both hands held straight out in front of you, shoulder-width apart.
- Pull shoulder blades slightly back and down before beginning.
- With straight arms, pull the elastic toward the ceiling in a Y formation by lifting your chest and pivoting your arms at the shoulders.
- Return to starting position with a controlled movement.
Exercise 3: Alternating Trunk Rotation. 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Raise one hand off the floor and stretch it to the sky, rotating your trunk as you do it.
- Bring hand back to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side.
Note: To add resistance, hold a light medicine ball or weight in your hands.
If at any point you feel pain during these exercises, you should contact a professional before doing them again.
Prevent Shoulder Pain Naturally
The exercises above can give you a baseline warmup that can help you prevent shoulder pain. You can also view more general tips on preventing shoulder pain here. However, if it persists, a chiropractor can help shoulder pain. Often, the cause of shoulder pain in athletes is a gradual misalignment that is almost inevitable with overuse.
Chiropractors can not only help to realign your shoulder, but they can give you further exercises to do so you never have to deal with shoulder pain again. No matter the cause of your shoulder pain, a professional can help you determine the right course so you can keep enjoying an active, athletic lifestyle.
Written By Dr Wells.
Shoulder pain in the overhead throwing athlete
Prevention of shoulder injuries in overhead athletes: a science-based approach
Preventing overuse shoulder injuries among throwing athletes
The OSTRC Shoulder Injury Prevention Programme