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Dealing with Pain Part 3: Keeping the Shoulders in Shape

September 19, 2019

"When you injure your shoulder, the simplest of tasks can become excruciating."

Healthy, strong shoulders are so important to many of the activities we enjoy. On today’s live show, Dr. Nancy Lin looks at common conditions that plague the shoulders over time, and describes several things we should be doing regularly to help prevent injury to our precious shoulder joints. Plus, she’ll demonstrate her top 7 exercises to help relieve shoulder pain and improve joint health.

Video Highlights

  • 01:59: All About Shoulders
  • 08:05: Common Shoulder Issues
  • 14:29: Top 7 Shoulder Stretches
  • 35:12: Joint-Nourishing Foods
  • 36:51: Joint Supplementation
  • 39:13: Wrap-Up

All About Shoulders

The shoulder is an interesting joint. It not only allows you the mobility to move your arm in every direction, but it provides stability in the shoulders and upper torso area.

Shoulders are so important to so many different activities we enjoy, so let’s get them strong and healthy, okay?

The shoulder girdle is actually comprised of three joints: 

  • The glenohumeral joint
  • The sternoclavicular joint 
  • The acromioclavicular joint 

The glenohumeral joint is what is typically referred to as the shoulder joint because it’s that ball and socket joint where the head of the arm bone attaches to a socket called the glenoid. This allows you to internally and externally rotate your arms. For instance, when you bend your elbow 90 degrees with your forearm parallel to the floor and move your hand toward your stomach – that’ internal rotation. When you go the other way, that’s external rotation. 

The sternoclavicular joint is a synovial joint, which is a joint that contains a membrane filled with synovial fluid that keeps the joints lubricated, healthy, and protected. It’s where the clavicle, also known as your collarbone, meets the sternum and the first rib. It allows you to:

  • Shrug your shoulders
  • Drop your shoulders
  • Extend the arms behind you as you will with one of the stretches you’ll learn today
  • Throw a ball

Really, this joint is responsible for so much upper limb mobility. Because of this, it needs to have a lot of stability, especially since it’s the only point where the upper limbs connect to the axial skeleton — the part of the skeleton that connects the head, the ribs, the sternum, and the vertebral column. 

The acromioclavicular joint is also a synovial joint, and is where the part of the shoulder blade called the acromion meets the clavicle. This joint allows you to raise your arm overhead and gives the arm the ability to rotate so well. 

All three of these joints are surrounded by muscles, tendons, and ligaments that help keep the joints stable and hold them in their socket. The rotator cuff, for instance, is a grouping of muscles and tendons that holds the upper arm into the shoulder socket. Each muscle within that rotator cuff grouping has a very specific job, as do all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments associated with the shoulder girdle. 

Common Shoulder Issues

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the shoulder — literally. So when you injure your shoulder, the simplest of tasks like brushing your hair, carrying groceries, grabbing something off of a high shelf, or fastening a bra can become excruciating. As you age, natural wear and tear on the shoulder joint can lead to this limited mobility, as well as leave you vulnerable to other shoulder issues like:

  • Torn rotator cuff: A torn rotator cuff is an extremely common shoulder injury and typically occurs because of overuse or repetitive movement, but it can also happen from normal wear and tear as you age. A tear is when one of the muscles either becomes frayed or becomes damaged completely and pulls the tendon away from the bone.  
  • Bursitis: Bursitis is also known as shoulder impingement syndrome or rotator cuff tendonitis and can occur when the tendons of the rotator cuff become inflamed. The result is swelling or redness, as well as pain when you move a certain way. 
  • Poor posture: As you age, you may start to develop a curve in the spine that causes the shoulders to round forward. Or, if this forward rounding of the shoulders can occur after years of working behind a computer. This can then lead to poor posture, which can cause pain in the shoulders because the muscles along the back of the shoulders become overstretched.  
  • Oseteoarthritis in the shoulder: This occurs when the cartilage of the shoulder joint — where the head of the arm bone meats the shoulder socket — wears away and causes pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. 

Did you know that, every year, 53,000 people receive shoulder replacement surgery? While this isn’t as high a number as those who are having knee and hip replacements (which is somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million people, annually) it’s still a decent chunk of the United States’ population.

Obviously you want to avoid shoulder replacement surgery, or any type of shoulder surgery, for that matter, so it’s absolutely crucial that you take care of your shoulders by stretching, strengthening, and working to maintain good posture or improve your posture if you notice your shoulders are rounding forward. 

Increasing mobility will help ease aches and pains, both now and further on down the road. So, we recommend you begin caring for your shoulders today by performing the following 7 stretches to prevent shoulder injury and to improve mobility in your shoulder joints.

Top 7 Shoulder Stretches

Before you get started on these stretches, it’s a good idea to warm up by doing some shoulder rolls! Get the most out of them by rolling as high as you can and as far back as you can, contracting your shoulder blades, to make the biggest circles with your shoulders that you can!

You can do these with your arms at your sides, or extend your arms out in a T shape and make more circles, forward and back, lubricating your shoulder joints.

Cross-body Shoulder Stretch

This first stretch is one many of you will recognize. 

  • You can perform this stretch either standing up nice and tall or sitting upright in a chair. 
  • Bring your right arm across the body, keeping both shoulders down away from the ears, and take hold of the right arm above the elbow with the left hand. You should feel a nice stretch across the back and top of the shoulder.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. 

Reverse Shoulder Stretch 

This is an excellent stretch for the pectoral muscles, which are in the front, and the deltoids, which cover the uppermost part of the arm and the top of the shoulder.

  • Begin in a standing position with the feet about hip-width apart. 
  • Interlock the hands behind the back — it’s absolutely fine if your palms don’t touch. If they do, great. If they don’t, also great. Your hands should be in line with your butt. If it’s too hard to interlace your fingers, you can take a towel and hold it behind you with both hands. 
  • Keep your tailbone tucked, your back straight, and draw your shoulder blades together as you begin to lift your hands up and away from the body until you feel a stretch across the front of the chest and shoulders.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and release.  

Neck Release

Neck pain is very common, especially if you have a lot of work stress or sit at a desk all day. Tight neck muscles can impact and limit mobility in the shoulders, so it’s important to make sure you’re stretching the neck muscles, as well as the shoulder muscles. 

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your back straight. Your hands can rest gently on your thighs. 
  • Keeping your shoulders down away from your ears, lower your chin toward your chest until you feel a stretch along the back of your neck.  Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, if you can. 
  • Next, take your left ear toward your left shoulder, again progressing until you can hold the stretch for up to a minute. 
  • Finally, take the right ear toward the right shoulders, holding again. 
  • As you do this stretch, be sure to keep the breath nice and deep and even.
 

    Doorway Lat Stretch

    This is a great exercise to do if you have limited range of motion when lifting your arm overhead. That’s typically a sign of tight lats, which can lead to impingement and other aches and pains in and around the shoulder. 

    • Start by facing a doorway. Internally rotate the right arm and grab hold of the doorframe with your right hand. You want your arm to be shoulder-height. 
    • Sit your hips back slightly, which will force the torso to naturally tip forward and you should feel a nice stretch along the outside of the shoulder. If you feel it on the inside of the shoulder, come out of the stretch – that’s a sign you’ve either got improper form or your mobility is too limited at this point to be trying this stretch. 
    • If you’re good, hold for 10 to 20 seconds and come up to standing.
    • Repeat on the other side.  

    90-90 Shoulder Stretch

    Stay in the doorway for this stretch, which improves both mobility and stability in the shoulder:

    • Place your forearm on the door frame (you can use a wall for this one, too) with your elbow bent 90 degrees and with it positioned a touch below shoulder height. 
    • Keeping your forearm glued to the wall or the door frame, take a step forward so you feel a stretch across the chest. 
    • Another option is to add a twist onto this. As you take a step forward, rotate the torso away from the wall. Doesn’t that feel amazing? 
    • Repeat on the other side with or without the twist. 

    Foam Roller Snow Angels 

    These force the shoulder girdle to go through a full range of motion and will help to improve posture and relieve tension along the back of the shoulder and neck. If you can, we recommend you do this exercise every single day, especially if you’re someone who sits at a desk or is hunched over your work for hours at a time. Your shoulders will thank you!

    • Lie on a foam roller with it placed right underneath your spine. Ideally, you want to use a foam roller that extends from your head to your glutes. If you don’t have a foam roller, you can roll up a blanket tightly. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. 
    • If you’re using a foam roller that doesn’t extend all the way from the crown of your head to your underneath your seat, you might want to place a pillow under your head for extra support. If it’s comfortable on your neck without that extra support, make sure you keep your head in line with your spine. 
    • Begin with your arms down at your sides and take them overhead in an arc, as if you were making a snow angel with only your arms.  
    • Sweep your arms back down to your sides and repeat that motion about 10 to 20 times. 
    • Try to keep your fingers in contact with the floor as you make the snow angel movement but let your arms rotate as they naturally would as you move your arms. 
    • You also want to make sure you keep your arms straight the entire time. If you find you bend in the elbows, make that your stopping point. Only go so far as when you start to bend the elbows. 
    • If you start to take your arms overhead but you find that you’re extremely tight and you can’t go any further, pause there and breathe into the stretch until you feel the muscles begin to release. 

    Sleeper Stretch

    This next stretch is great because it increases shoulder mobility and flexibility.  

    • Start by lying on your right side and resting your head on either a pillow, a foam roller, or a rolled blanket.
    • Extend your right arm out in front of you on the floor with a 90 degree bend in the elbow so it’s perpendicular to the ground.
    • Take hold of your right wrist with your left hand and slowly begin to push the right forearm, using the left hand, toward the ground until you feel a gentle stretch — do not force the movement or push to a point where you feel pain. 
    • Once you feel that nice, gentle stretch, hold for about 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply into the stretch. 
    • Release and repeat about 2 or 3 more times before repeating on the left side.  

    Joint-Nourishing Foods

    In addition to stretching, you want to eat foods that will help keep inflammation down. Five of Dr. Nancy’s favorites, which we mentioned in part 2, are beneficial to help fight inflammation in all your joints:

    • Ginger
    • Walnuts
    • Broccoli
    • Grapes
    • Tart cherry juice

    Also load up on dark leafy greens, lean proteins  — if you eat meat then focus on salmon, turkey, eggs, and chicken — as well as nuts like almonds and Brazil nuts, and seeds like flax and chia. These types of foods will work wonders in helping maintain not just the health of your joints but your overall wellness. 

    Joint Supplements

    Sometimes, no matter how well we eat, we’re just not getting all the vital nutrients our joints each day to stay healthy. That’s why we recommend taking a daily supplement like Smarter Nutrition’s Smarter Joint Food. Developed by a world renowned doctor, Dr. John Hahn, it truly is the first real joint nourishment supplement, made will all natural ingredients, including whole collagen from chicken (the best collagen for joint support), MSM to prevent calcium deposits, vitamin C, Bromelain from pineapple and so much more. It’s a perfect product to take with your Smarter Curcumin daily, providing the perfect one-two punch for healthier joints: the Smarter Joint Food for nourishing support of your cartilage and that lubricating synovial fluid, and Smarter Curcumin for serious inflammation-fighting at the joint level. 

    Wrap-Up

    On today’s episode in Dr. Nancy’s pain series, we focused on the shoulder joints. Yes, joints, plural. The shoulder is made up of three joints, all three of which are responsible for various types of movement in the arms, including the ability to:

    • Shrug your shoulders
    • Reach overhead
    • Raise your arms
    • Drop your shoulders
    • Throw a ball
    • Carry or hold items
    • Reach the arm behind you

    The shoulder joints essentially allow for mobility and are responsible for the degree to which you can rotate your arms in a myriad of directions. 

    The shoulder joints are all surrounded by an intricate network of tendons, muscles, and ligaments that give the arms and the shoulders stability because they hold the joints in place. 

    We are constantly using our shoulder muscles in our daily lives and all that repetitive movement can lead to wear and tear on the joint as we age. You can become more susceptible to injuries like a torn rotator cuff or experience common shoulder conditions such as tendonitis, bursitis, or arthritis. However, by doing the 7 stretches we showed you every day, you can strengthen the shoulders, improve mobility and posture, and preserve the joint as a result. 

    Thanks for tuning and remember to check out part 4, as we discuss keeping the hips healthy!

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