Aside from sudden injuries, one of the most common mechanisms for rotator cuff injury is repetitive overuse. This includes any shoulder action you do over and over and over again. Can you think of a few people who fall into this category? Mail carriers, truck drivers, dental hygienists and baseball pitchers are all in the repetitive overuse club. No matter how they go about doing it – stuffing mail into mailboxes or shifting gears in a truck or cleaning teeth with their arms out in front of them ALL DAY LONG – they are all forming their own repetitive overuse injuries. Just like these four examples, most of us are vulnerable to these types of repetitive use injuries due to our profession or hobbies. And we both know the odds of our profession or hobby changing in the near future, don’t we? So let’s concentrate on a few essential tips we can all use to lessen the chance of injuring these muscles.

Lessen Repetitive Overuse

Switching which arm you use is the most important. If you often have to perform repetitive shoulder actions, at work for example, don’t just always use the same arm because it is your dominant side. Instead, cycle between your left and right arm at appropriate intervals to give your rotator cuff muscles some rest. This one simple change is crucial for people who lift and carry heavier objects at work every day, including painters, masons and mom’s with little kids.

Use Strong, Stable Posture

When lifting any weight with an arm, the further out your arm is away from your body (out in front of you, at your sides or overhead), the greater the stress placed on the rotator cuff muscles. This is because your arm acts as a lever and your shoulder the fulcrum, thus placing exponential amounts of tension on your shoulder. So regardless of the health of your shoulder, always carry weight as close to your body as possible, with your elbows preferably at your sides. This places the shoulder musculature in a strong, non-vulnerable position.

Warm Up Before Activity

We’ve all heard this advice, but how many of us actually do it? A warm muscle is a muscle that is stronger, faster and more flexible. Injury occurrence is statistically lower after warming up as well. So prior to any activity that taxes the rotator cuff, including weight lifting and most sports, implement a quick 5 minutes shoulder warm-up. A shoulder warm-up should include taking your shoulder joint and musculature through all the ranges of motion repeatedly. You can do this with either no weight or a low amount of weight (2-5 lbs.). Focus on isolating the specific muscles and use controlled movements.

Strengthen Your Cuff

The rotator cuff muscles are responsible for two main actions at the shoulder. Supraspinatus and subscapularis produce internal rotation of the shoulder; infraspinatus and teres minor produce external rotation. So these are the motions you want to incorporate into a workout. These four small muscles are not made to move a lot of weight, so keep it light. Typically 15 lbs. is as heavy as you want to go. For many people, 15 lbs. is too heavy to get isolated, controlled contraction of these distinct muscles. For general strengthening and stabilizing, use a weight you can perform 10-12 repetitions of for a total of 3 sets one time per day. If you have a hard time finding a weight light enough for you to use, try using a can of soup. While exercising these muscles, keep tight posture throughout your core and isolate the muscles of your shoulder. Always us slower, controlled movements.

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