ROTATOR CUFF INJURIES
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that help move and stabilize the shoulder joint. Damage to any or all of the four muscles and the ligaments that attach these muscles to bone is a common malady as we age. A prime culprit is posture. When our shoulders are rolled forward whether sitting or standing, the range of motion in our shoulder joint is automatically compromised. When we go to lift our arm in this position we are in danger of injury or re-injury to the rotator cuff. Try this test: using the healthier arm, sit relaxed in your chair with a gently slumped posture and lift that straight arm upward. Then sit with an erect posture and do the same thing again. We have far more range of motion in the shoulder if we sit or stand with our spine upright.
If your upper arm hurts while doing anything, straighten up.
The ultimate cause: We use our arms incorrectly, and more so as we get older. The arm starts in the upper back, not in the shoulder joint. We are accustomed to using our arms alone, without upper back support and this is the underlying cause for many shoulder injuries. Strengthen your upper back. There are many exercises available. Look online. Ask your doctor. And try to think of your arms originating in the middle of your back as you move them, especially when reaching.
A number of years ago, one of my long time students complained about having a rotator cuff injury. It hurt her to lift that arm up. I showed her the simple exercises described below. She hadn’t mentioned it for several months when I asked her how her shoulder was doing. She exclaimed that she forgot she had the injury! The exercises had worked so well that she had continued them on her own and the injury disappeared! This student was in her late 80s at the time.
- Increase upper back strength, specifically the rhomboid muscles between the shoulder blades. If your upper back is strong, arm use is supported and shoulder injury reduced. While strengthening your upper back take care not to tense the shoulders upward while performing exercises.
- If your upper arm or shoulder hurts when you move, improve your posture by bringing your head back with your chin slightly tucked and re-try. This will automatically give the arm more support and reduce risk of re-injury of the rotator cuff.
- If using your upper arm or shoulder is painful, practice the following basic exercises. These movements are very simple and safe and improve shoulder joint range of motion while reducing tension and discomfort.
Exercise routine to rehabilitate the shoulder:
- Sit forward in your chair and bring both legs over to the left.
- Tilt your straight spine forward and place your left hand on your right knee to stabilize yourself. Allow your right arm to dangle at your side. Sit so that you have enough room to gently and freely swing your right arm without hitting anything.
- Gently circle your right arm 4 times in each direction as it is hanging straight down. Pretend it is a rag doll arm, totally relaxed. Use the least amount of effort you can. Make the circles smaller rather than larger.
- Allow your arm to come to stillness.
- Straighten the fingers of the right arm, tensing the muscles of the entire arm and then releasing. Repeat another 3 times.
- Straighten your fingers, tense the arm and then twist your right palm forward and back 4 times to stretch the muscles surrounding the top of the shoulder. The arm stays in place as you turn it.
This routine could easily be done once a day. The result will be positive no matter your condition because you will be gently exercising the shoulder joint itself, allowing it to relax and heal. You can also do this routine very effectively in a standing position as you lean over a sturdy table with your arm hanging freely.
This exercise routine is taught in the 4th DVD of the Building Better Balance series of balance classes, “Arthritis, Rotator Cuff Injuries and other Chronic Conditions“. See www.building-better-balance.com for further information.