How to Maintain Shoulder Health while Emerging from Quarantine

Luke S. Austin, M.D. May 27th, 2020

Summer is here and as the quarantine restrictions are lifted many people will return to their normal exercise routine. This is no time to be sidelined again with a shoulder injury. Activities such as lifting weights, throwing, playing tennis, yoga, swimming, and pickle ball can impart significant stress on the shoulder. The following are three concepts to consider as you return to activity.

The first concept to understand is atrophy. Atrophy is wasting away of muscle due to underuse or neglect. The most notable example of atrophy is astronauts returning from space. This process can occur extremely quickly and astronauts exposed to zero gravity even for days can have trouble bearing their own weight under Earth’s gravity. This is an important consideration when returning to exercise following the quarantine and one should considerably reduce the weight or intensity of the workout in the beginning. A general rule of thumb is it take the same amount of time to reverse atrophy as it did to get it. The quarantine lasted around two months so it should take you two months to get back to your normal exercise routine and weights.

The second consideration is more specific to the shoulder. There is a delicate balance between the smaller finesse muscles and the larger power muscles in the shoulder. The shoulder is an inherently unstable joint and relies on several structures to maintain stability, one of which is the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles that surround the joint and help with function and stability. These muscles and their associated tendons are a common source of shoulder pathology. We generally focus on the larger power muscles like the pectoralis major, deltoid, and latissimus major, during a workout and neglect the smaller muscles like the rotator cuff. When imbalance occurs, the larger muscles overpower the rotator cuff this can lead to rotator cuff strain or tear.  As you return to the gym, start each work out with a rotator cuff exercise program focusing on rotator cuff strengthening and shoulder flexibility. Click here for examples that I’ve put together.

Lastly, cross training is an excellent way to prevent injury. Many of us fall into an exercise routine and repeat the same exercises every week. This does not give the body adequate time to recover. For instance, weightlifting, especial upper body pressing exercises can lead to considerable shoulder pain. Give your body a break from your routine a couple of times and year and do a month of cross training like yoga or swimming. Your body will thank you and you may also see improvement in other aspects of physique such as balance and flexibility.

Avoid the temptation of jumping back into your normal activities and you’ll ensure that your summer is not spent rehabbing an injury! We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy during these trying times. If you do experience shoulder pain and are unsure of the root cause, please click here to request an appointment with one of our specialists—either an in-person or virtual visit.

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