shoulder impingement

How to Prevent Shoulder Impingement as an Overhead Athlete

If you’re an athlete at risk for shoulder impingement:

… Learn how overhead motions cause shoulder pain.
… Use exercises to prevent impingement.
… Work with a sports physical therapist.

Does your sport require overhead arm motions? Many do. Whether you’re shooting hoops, pitching balls or swimming laps, athletes of all kinds repeatedly rotate their shoulders to raise their arms during practice and competitions. But this puts them at risk for shoulder impingement.

Shoulder impingement is a painful condition common in athletes of all ages that makes both sports and daily activities difficult. Many athletes have had to miss part of a season due to such a shoulder injury.

But with some understanding of shoulder mechanics and injury prevention, you can avoid shoulder impingement and enjoy a full season.

What Causes Shoulder Impingement?

As an athlete, you can take care of your body better when you understand how it works. That includes understanding the mechanics of your body and how to avoid causing undue strain and damage.

Shoulder impingement, for instance, is caused by excessive repetitive motion of the shoulder, especially from overhead activity. These repetitive motions cause strain on the shoulder’s very complex physiology.

Your shoulder is made up of the clavicle, scapula (shoulder blade) and humerus bones. Additionally, there are four muscles that comprise your rotator cuff. These muscles connect the humerus bone in your arm to the shoulder blade. They stabilize the shoulder joint and allow the shoulder to rotate. This is important because the shoulder blade has no ligament attachments and is especially susceptible to strain from excessive movement.

When you use a repetitive overhead movement, you use excessive external rotation in one direction and not enough in the opposite direction. This creates an imbalance in the shoulder that causes the rotator cuff to catch wrong and increases pressure in the shoulder. When this happens, you’ll often experience an uncomfortable tightness and decrease in rotation. This is impingement.

Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement

How do you know if you have shoulder impingement? The first symptom is usually a sudden pain in your shoulder when you lift your arm overhead or cock your arm for a throw.

Other symptoms include:

…Constant dull pain in your arm.
…Pain that goes from the front of your shoulder to the side of your arm.
…Decreased range of motion during the follow-through of a throw.
…Shoulder or arm weakness.
…Pain that gets worse at night.
…Difficulty reaching up behind the back.

If you have these symptoms, visit your doctor. They will assess your symptoms and perhaps order an X-ray to diagnose the impingement and severity of it. From there, they can prescribe treatments ranging from exercises to medication, physical therapy and surgery.

How to Prevent Shoulder Impingement

When you start to feel some discomfort or strain in your shoulder, try these exercises to relieve that initial tightness and prevent impingement:

1 – Crossbody Exercise

Hold the affected arm across your body, and use your other arm to gently pull the first across your chest until you feel a stretch in the backside of your shoulder. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then release. Do five to 10 repetitions.

2 – Sleeper Stretches

Lay on the affected shoulder on a flat surface. Keep your upper arm flat on the ground in front of you with your elbow in line with your shoulder. With your other arm, gently push your arm down to the ground until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for five to 10 seconds before releasing. Repeat five to 10 times.

Additionally, you can balance your muscle training by performing a variety of arm- and shoulder-strengthening exercises, using good posture, and taking a rest when things get sore.

Finally, using proper throwing mechanics can prevent injury. Work with a sports physical therapist who can assess your motions and advise you on your technique. An experienced sports PT also can suggest a custom strengthening and conditioning plan to keep your shoulders in their best shape to avoid impingement this season and beyond.

True Sports Physical Therapy—Where Maryland Athletes Rehab

At True Sports, we’re sports focused because you’re sports focused. The best physical therapists in Baltimore and Maryland provide the highest level of sports physical therapy and expertise you need to get back to your sport.

With six convenient state-of-the-art locations to choose from, any athlete who takes their rehab seriously can get awesome care and extraordinary results. Select your location and schedule an appointment, and have True Sports get you back to your team.

For questions about insurance or self-pay rates, please call our office at (401) 946-1672.

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