Though orthopedic medical procedures for the shoulder have come a long way, it is better to prevent injuries to the joint altogether.
This should always be kept in mind when training for baseball, tennis, swimming or any other sport requiring upper-body use. Strengthening the rotator-cuff muscles and core, as well as improving your posture, can be helpful in preventing injuries to the shoulder down the road.
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, but it is also one of the weakest. The rotator-cuff muscles, which stabilize the joint, are located underneath the deltoids, the larger muscles of the shoulder. Four rotator-cuff muscles wrap halfway around the head of the upper arm bone (humerus). These muscles keep the head of the upper arm tight to the joint. They also control rotating and raising the arm.
For many, the internal rotators seem to be stronger than the external rotators, causing an imbalance. Doing some external-rotation exercises will help fix this. The only equipment needed is a light dumbbell and a bench.
Lie face down on the bench, allowing one arm to hang off to the side. While holding a light weight (1 to 3 pounds) in the same arm, raise the weight so that your arm ends up mimicking a right-hand turn signal, then lower it back down toward the floor. Your armpit and elbow should be at exactly 90 degrees when at the top. Do two to three sets of 15 repetitions. You should feel a slight burning sensation around your shoulder.
Strengthening your core is also must, not only for prevention of shoulder injuries, but also for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, ankle sprains and back pain.
The core, which includes everything from mid chest to mid thigh, must be able to activate correctly and be strong enough so that all body movements are done effectively and efficiently. When throwing a baseball, for example, certain core muscles should activate at just the right time in order to connect the arm motion with the legs' base of support. Without this connection, the legs cannot contribute energy to the ball as effectively, causing the shoulder to do a lot more work.
A good exercise to practice activation would be the straight-arm pull-down. While standing tall in front of a lat-pull machine, grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width with your arms straight (elbows almost locked). Keeping your arms straight, pull the bar down until the weight on the machine comes close to the top or the bar comes to your hip. Slowly raise the bar back to shoulder level. You should feel your abs turn on while doing this. If not, practice tightening them while doing the exercise. Do two to three sets of 15. This exercise teaches you to activate your lat muscles while engaging your core to stabilize. This is what should be happening when you throw a ball.
I often say posture has to do with just about everything. When posture is close to perfect, the shoulder can function with very little resistance. When slouching, this is not the case. You can feel the difference by purposely slouching and attempting to straighten your arm vertically overhead. When doing the same task while sitting tall, it is much easier to hold your arm vertical. When continually performing actions while slouching or slumped over, the shoulders receive a lot of wear and tear. Be sure that you stay conscious of your posture and spend an equal amount of time strengthening the back muscles as you do the chest muscles.
The shoulders have predisposed weaknesses, but very few people understand how useful the joint really is until we lose its function. When working on the shoulders, be sure you don't increase the weight load too quickly, as they are weaker than the other joints.
Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.