How to Get Strong Shoulders to Avoid Pain

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Almost 10 percent of Americans live with chronic shoulder pain, and that doesn’t include those who have shoulder pain caused by an injury. According to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), “What most people call the shoulder is really several joints that combine with tendons and muscles to allow a wide range of motion in the arm ­ from scratching your back to throwing the perfect pitch.”

Shoulder problems can be debilitating and are often caused by tissue breakdown from overuse and/or aging. According to the AAOS, “ It may lead to increasing problems with instability or impingement of the soft tissue or bony structures in your shoulder, resulting in pain. You may feel pain only when you move your shoulder, or all of the time. The pain may be temporary or it may continue and require medical diagnosis and treatment.”

The most common issues include rotator cuff problems (tears or disease), fracture, arthritis, separation, dislocation, and frozen shoulder (very restricted usage). Strong shoulders are the best defense against injury. Here are a few exercises to help.

Always talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program.

Front Arm Raise
Equipment: None or dumbbells
Start: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold light dumbbells (or start with none) with your arms straight down at your sides, palms facing backward.
Movement: Keeping arms straight, raise both arms in front of you to shoulder height. Hold that position for 1 second .Lower your arms, and repeat.
How many: 7-10 times.

Lateral Raises
Equipment: Resistance bands, tubes or dumbbells
Start: While standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, center the resistance band or tube beneath both feet (or grab the dumbbells). Keep your knees soft and slightly bent. Grasp the handles and bring your hands to your sides with your arms hanging straight down and your palms facing inward toward your sides. Keep your chest up and shoulders back and upright.
Movement: Inhale, then exhale and move your arms straight out from your sides until they are at shoulder level and parallel to the ground. Lower your arms back down to your sides and repeat. Make sure to tighten your trunk by contracting your core muscles (midsection), and keep your back straight.
How many: Two sets of 10 repetitions.

Shoulder Stretch
Equipment: None
Start: Stand with your back against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands in a “stick-em-up” position, elbows bent, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling, and arms against the wall. with your arms against the wall. Movement: Keeping your elbows bent, let your arms slowly roll forward so that your fingertips and pointing toward the floor and touching the wall. Hold for 15 seconds and return to your starting position. How many: 5 times.

Arm Circles
Equipment: None
Start: Sit or stand with your arms extended straight out and parallel to the floor.
Movement: With both arms outstretched, make circles of about 1 foot in diameter. Continue the circular motion for about ten seconds. Then reverse directions and do the same thing for another 10 seconds. How many: 3-5 sets in each direction ( 10 seconds per set)

Shoulder Shrug
Equipment: None or dumbbells
Starting position: Sit or stand up straight. Let your arms fall to your sides with your palms facing towards your body.
Movement: Bring your shoulders up towards your ears. Hold for a count of 3, then release. You can also do this while holding lightweight dumbbells (3-5 pounds).
How many: 5 – 7 shrugs

Bird Dog
Equipment: None or exercise mat
Start: Support yourself on your hands and knees with your back flat as a board.
Movement: Raise and straighten your left leg to the rear and your right arm to the front. Hold for a few seconds, then return to your starting position and do the same thing with your opposite arm and leg. Make sure to control the rest of your body movements.
How many: Do 10 reps on each arm/leg.

Additional Resources and Exercises for Your Shoulder

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