This Is One Of The Most Common Sports Injuries — Here's How To Prevent It

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Plain and simple, getting injured is the worst. Whether you're just starting out on your exercise journey, starting up again after a previous injury, or exploring new exercises, an injury is a huge bummer. If you've ever felt like you're the only one or thought, "I always get injured," we're here to tell you—you're not alone. Karena Wu, physical therapist and the owner and clinical director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai, gave us the inside scoop on one of the most common sports-related injuries and how to prevent it.

It's difficult to say what injury is the most common, but in her practice, she is seeing many knee and shoulder injuries, with shoulder injuries being prominent, especially with sports that require overhead movements such as volleyball and swimming, as well as gym-related exercises such as bent-over rows, said Wu.

What's going on?

Well, the shoulder joint is incredibly complex, as it contains four different joints all working to place the arm in space and give us an extensive range of motion. "You can move your shoulder 180 degrees, so that's a lot of mobility and requires a lot of stability, so that means all of the joints need to move appropriately to have good control," said Wu. The complexity of the joints and surrounding muscles leaves room for an incident, a common one being a rotator-cuff injury. The rotator cuff shoulder group plays an important role, explained Wu as it stabilizes the glenohumeral joint, the ball and socket, which keeps the arm connected to the shoulder blade. Stabilizer muscles are more like endurance muscles, explained Wu, so "whenever you're moving, they should be on all the time, and when you're not strong, they don't do their job, and then you recruit other muscles and create dysfunctional mechanics."

An injured rotator cuff can lead to pain when lying on your side, reaching behind your back or with overhead movements, which can become uncomfortable even with simple everyday actions like opening cabinets, said Wu. The good news is there's a lot you can do to prevent a rotator-cuff injury.

Work on your posture.

"Posture is a very important point when it comes to shoulder strengthening and movement," said Wu. We often spend our days hunched over our phones or desks, and this can create tightness in our chest and weakness in our back, so "putting yourself in better upright posture positions the shoulder complex better so that when you go to move the arm, you get less stress on the tissues."

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Try a rotator cuff exercise.

A simple exercise that can help improve posture and prevent rotator-cuff injury is a scapular retraction movement. "Squeezing the shoulder blades back together helps turn on these posturally related muscles or muscles around the shoulder blade." If you're standing, keep your elbows straight with your arms resting at your side and squeeze your shoulder blades together. You can also do this sitting with your hands resting on your thighs.

Another great exercise to prevent rotator-cuff injury is doing exercises that require external rotation. Sitting or standing, place your arm at a 90-degree angle with your elbow touching your body. Hold on to some form of weight—free weight, TheraBand, or weight-stack machine, and with the back of your hand facing out toward the side, draw the hand out away from the body keeping the hand in line with the elbow and the elbow tucked into the body.

These exercises can help open up tight muscles in the front of the body, strengthen the back, and turn on the right muscles around the shoulder blade.

Be proactive.

If you think you may have a rotator-cuff injury, you can try to massage the area, ice it, or try some rotator cuff exercises. Wu pointed out that many of her clients come in after they have been in pain for quite some time, so if you do feel like these exercises or typical swelling remedies are not doing the trick or are causing more pain, it may be time to seek professional help from a physical therapist. As with any exercise, you'll want to listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel pain, it's best to back off and try something different. We each have a different body, and these exercises are not one-size-fits-all.

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