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Struggling with Shoulder Pain? Let’s Give You a Hand!

Aug 03, 2022
helping hands

Shoulder problems are so darn debilitating and 66% of you will have to deal with shoulder pain at some point in your life. Sadly, as with many other ailments, as you get older you're even more likely to get shoulder problems. Rubbish!

The tricky thing about shoulders is most people only get eye watering pain in very particular positions, or when doing certain things like reaching quickly, putting on a coat or doing something above your head like drying your hair. Human logic makes you find trick ways to get around this stuff, AND, more importantly put off doing anything about it because the problem isn’t there all the time, right?!?....

WRONG!

Not addressing the problem makes it worse. Your whole arm gets weaker and you overwork other areas to try to compensate. None of this is ideal and commonly leads to 18 months or more of pain. So, here's the low down on what commonly causes your shoulder problems.

In today’s blog, Naomi is going to focus on why most people get shoulder problems and how to fix them!

 

Why does my shoulder hurt?

Most people get shoulder problems because they are “overusing” them. It’s that simple. You will be blissfully unaware yo're doing it until it’s too late! Often these problems are years in the making before the “acute” new injury happens with little warning.

The shoulder overuse / overworking happens because you aren’t using the other muscles around your elbow, wrist, or hand enough. Your poor shoulder does too much loading to compensate for the other areas not doing their job. Overtime it gets grouchy and sore, just like you when you do too much! Your body is a clever machine. It makes up the shortfall in one area, by overcompensating with another.

Good movement and strength in your hand and elbow is KEY to setting your shoulder up for success. Take pouring a kettle, your hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder all should be working together, each doing their bit to accept the load of the kettle up the arm to the shoulder.

 

Not using your hands and arms enough causes shoulder pain

Most clients we see in the clinic with shoulder pain aren’t using their wrist and hand enough when using their arms which is why their shoulders get sore. It’s that simple. Over time this can lead to rotator cuff problems, arthritis, and other shoulder diagnosis.

Wrist and hand problems like arthritis, old injuries or broken bones can all be responsible for why you don’t work this area enough in conjunction with the rest of your arm. This can also happen overtime just because of poor habits! I mean think about it, we were not built to be typing away on our phones and computers, were we? Our ancestors used their hands far more than we ever do. It is no wonder with time a lot of us lose the strength in this vital part of our body.

Another classic example is when on hands and knees. So many people in Pilates hate this position because it hurts their wrists. It’s not that it is “bad” for them, they are just unused to it and they’ve lost the ability to load their arms properly in this position. Again, I’m going to write more about this another time!

 

Can I change how I use my hand and arm?

Good news, YES. With some simple movement and strength tests in standing then lying, a good physio can figure out where the imbalance is coming from, causing your overload and pain in the shoulder.

A common cause of the wrist and hand not loading right, are tightness in the forearm muscles. Simple yet specific stretches can sort this, along with some decent hands-on techniques that take moments to do. Also important is to “de-sensitise” the overloaded, sore bits of the shoulder. Again, these simple and quick techniques help reassure your brain and nervous system that it is safe to load your arm in the right way.

 

What can a Physio really do for my sore shoulder?

A skilled Physio will be able to start the strengthening programme from session 1, initially by getting all the regions working together in a sub-maximal way. This means you aren’t supposed to give it all you’ve got. It’s more about just waking stuff up and getting the orchestra playing the right tune.

The training progresses to gradually higher loads and speeds. The direction of which depends on which bits are sore, weak, or out of practice. Rarely do we use band or isolated exercises for shoulder problems these days. It’s more about getting the whole arm working together not just focusing on one joint or the sore bit.

If you are still a little confused about the process, simply think about what you’d need to do if you’d broken your ankle. You would never expect to come out of a cast and start to run on it, or even walk on it normally, without pain on day 1, would you? You would need to teach the joints and muscles of the foot and ankle to tolerate load again, first in standing, squatting, then walking, then possibly even leaping, or running movements. Why do we expect different from our hands? Our hands we use for everything from simply brushing our teeth, to carrying loads of washing or perhaps even playing tennis. Even if the hand isn’t loading but, in the arm, it still needs to be working to support the shoulder.

 

What can I do to change how I use my hands and arms?

The easiest thing to do is pay more attention to using your hand, pushing through it, and actively using it when doing anything involving your arms. If holding something, focus on working harder through your grip. If leaning on it, the main pressure should be through the mid-hand not the wrist. Actively push through the mid-hand like you were trying to squash an orange.

Identify the cause of the problem quickly will save you months of eye watering ouch moments. Don’t wait on it. This doesn’t work. It is best you stay active but don’t push into pain. Respect it and do something about it. Your body is trying to tell you something. Tony Robbins said, “the purpose of pain isn’t to make you suffer, it’s to make you take action”. I love this. It’s so true on many, many levels! Repeat that last bit again!

 

Should I stop everything because my shoulder hurts?

No, absolutely not! If your therapist figures out a particular activity is causing your shoulder problems, it may be necessary to modify or stop that activity for a short time only, until you are strong enough to tolerate it in the correct way. We may ask you to alter how long or how often you do something, temporarily.

Your body and brain are very clever. If one part is weak or injured, it will find a way to use another bit to compensate, which, as I mentioned earlier often is the cause of a pain or problem. We just ‘overuse’ that bit of us that has had to compensate.

It therefore should be obvious you need to retrain the correct way of using your arm with gradually increasing loads, otherwise, when you need to do high loading activities or quick sudden movements you will just revert to your old habits and re-aggravate your shoulder. This is the main reason problems in shoulders come back. It’s because you didn’t progress your exercises to a high enough load to tolerate all you want to do with your arm.

We take our darling hands for granted. That’s for sure. Most don’t have a clue how important hand strength is to the function of the whole arm and shoulder. So get more focused on your hand doing more so your shoulder can do less.

 

And finally...

Shoulder injuries can be persistent and debilitating. Resting them is nigh on impossible and doesn’t work in fixing them long term. It only makes them weaker and sorer. Your hands and shoulders are parts of your body that you use every day, without thinking. Yet weakness in the wrist and hands is a common cause of shoulder pain.

It is so very important you can load these parts of you properly. Like learning to walk before you start running – slow and steady is the BEST way to teach your muscles to move and load again so do not let your shoulder pain hold you back any longer, it is time to take back control of your body.

A couple of dos and don’ts to get you started along your journey to recovery…

 

Do’s:

· Avoid sleeping on the pain side. Instead use pillows to prop or support it so it doesn’t dangle at night!

· Stay active and using your arm within your comfortable range, do not completely cease moving your arm or shoulder

· Avoid working over head as this is a common aggravator

· Try heat or ice for pain relief

· See your GP for medications to help relieve your pain

· Take positive action and get it looked at by a good therapist, so you know exactly what is going on

· Give your therapist the full history of your injuries, surgeries, sprains, and fractures, even from when you were little. It is all relevant and will give them clues as to the underlying cause.

 

Don’ts:

· Automatically assume the worst – there are plenty of reasons your shoulder can hurt, most which are totally fixable.

· Partake in strenuous activity that makes it worse. This can range from weightlifting to gardening and will vary from one person to another.

· Stop using the shoulder completely. Use it within your comfortable range as much as possible.

· Pretend it’s going to get better on its own with a few more weeks of rest. Be kind to yourself, prioritise yourself and your own wellbeing. What will it cost you not to get your shoulder fixed?

 

On that note I will leave you this week. Huge thanks for taking the time to read this. Any questions or to chat with one of our therapists to see if we can help you with your particular problem simply call 01548 852355 or email [email protected] Here’s to getting the freedom back this summer to move, live and love your life!

 

You can read more about the 5 myths stopping you from curing shoulder pain here

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