As far as muscles go, the shoulder is undeniably the most common injury incurred by gym goers and fitness enthusiasts. The relatively small musculature and hypermobility of the joint means the connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) are at high risk of injury and chronic wear and tear. Shoulder injuries vary from subluxations, dislocations, strains and instability, which might have manifested because of an acute impact, chronic repetitive strain or an acute misalignment, strain or impingement.
Common types of shoulder injury
- Frozen shoulder
- Rotator cuff disorders
- Shoulder instability
- Acromioclavicular joint disorders
- Strained/ torn ligaments or tendons
It’s beyond the scope of this article (and the limits of my expertise) to go into each and every shoulder injury, so I will focus on what is arguably the single most common cause of shoulder instability, misalignment (which may lead onto other shoulder injuries) and secondary injuries…the rotator cuff!
What is the Rotator cuff?
The name rotator cuff hints at it’s structure and function. The rotator cuff is integral to rotating movements similar to that involved when combing your hair or performing a windscreen wiper movement. The rotator cuffs encapsulate the shoulder joint meaning it is integral to joint stability and strength. The rotator cuff is surrounded by the deltoid muscles. These are responsible for generating the majority of force exerted by the shoulder, but if the rotator cuffs are weak, the strength of the deltoid is somewhat immaterial!
Implications on training
If the rotator cuffs are not looked after properly and become weak, stretched and/ or tight, then you significantly reduce your capacity to train. The other movements such as bench press, shoulder press and bicep curls will be impossible to perform and limit your growth potential. There are 2 types of muscle involved in muscular development and performance, stabilising muscles and force generating muscles, the stabilisers aren’t judged in a bodybuilding competition for example, but the forceful ones are…but quite simply, you can’t have one without the other, so look after your rotator cuffs!
Reduce the risk of shoulder injury
First and foremost you’ve got to ensure that you warm up! The shoulders are called into action in pretty much every exercise except for when you’re training legs. So before you commence any session be sure to mobilise the shoulder and increase perfusion of blood to the area. A great way to ensure the shoulder is ready to withstand a load is to perform 5 mins on the cross trainer, ensuring you bring the arms into action too. From here you should then proceed to perform gentle dynamic shoulder movements, including rotations and lateral movements. To make sure the rotator cuffs are supple and ready to go, spend a few mins on the cable machines performing cable movements such as internal rotations…
…and external rotations
Consistent training of the delts will NOT significantly reduce your risk of injury, in fact, according to Kolber, Corrao and Hanney (2013), neglecting the rotator cuff is more likely to increase your risk of impingement and poor joint stability, and thus increase your risk of injury, than any other muscle in the shoulder region!
Kolber, M., Corrao, M., & Hanney, W, (2013). Characteristics of Anterior Shoulder Instability and Hyperlaxity in the Weight-Training Population.Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 27: 5. p1333-1339. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318269f776
NHS Choices, (2013). NHS Choices, your health, your choices. Shoulder pain- causes. Retrieved 6th October, 2013, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/shoulderpain/Pages/Causes.aspx