Over the past month at Pinnacle Chiropractic, we have been working with an innovative approach to treating shoulder dysfunction. So far, it’s working with ridiculously amazing results. It’s something we had never really thought of, although the answer had been staring us in the face since our first neurology class. Well, maybe we needed the physiology class, too, but either way, we definitely have a lot more satisfied patients now. The funny thing is, even when I wasn’t using this technique, I considered myself quite good at working with shoulders. (I think my patients did as well.) I am a chiropractic sports physician, and thus work with a ton of patients on their extremities, and I have been able to guide them through their injuries and get them better before, but now it’s so much faster and with far less discomfort.
Anyway, because of my new appreciation and excitement about the shoulder, I am presenting to you the top three things that most people with shoulder pain are guilty of, and maybe didn’t even know it. I will explain the basics, but I’m going to give you a much more scientific article in the next few days that gets to the specifics of shoulder function (for those who care), but for now, lets just get to the bad habits.
Sleeping with your arm over your head
Yeah, this is kind of a no-no. The average American gets about 8 1/2 hours of sleep per night according to a 2012 Bureau of Labor and Statistics study. (Who are these people getting this much sleep, and what the heck am I doing wrong in life to not be one of them? I know I’m nowhere near that. It’s 2:00 AM as I sit here writing this!) So, roughly 510 minutes of having your trapezius and levator scapulae muscles (between your neck and shoulder blade) shortened. A short muscle easily becomes an overactive and overstressed muscle. During the day, it will cause your nervous system to more readily use the trap muscle to begin to raise your arm, which it is not supposed to do. Your deltoid muscle has that job. When you raise your arm up using your trap, it sets off a chain of biomechanical events between your shoulder blade and upper arm bone (humerus) that restricts motion and tends to pinch the tendons. This is known as impingement syndrome. It’s a nasty inflammatory condition (actually the reason I developed Phoenix KinetiCream) and is very hard to get free from on your own. My suggestion to fix this bad habit? Stay on your side, get a fitted pillow for side-sleeping (Therapeutica is my favorite) and then get an $8 body pillow from Wal-Mart or Target and hug it. (Put the bottom of it between your knees, which helps the pelvis stay aligned.) Sleep comfortably and enjoy!
Sitting with slumped posture
Another habit that is one that leads to pain in the shoulders is sitting in a poor posture. Honestly, I tell my high school aged patients that I’m going to give the person behind them in class an electric cattle prod to poke them with if they keep slumping even worse than a Cleveland Indians “big” hitter. They are the worst offenders. A lot of you office workers aren’t much better. What does back posture have to do with the shoulders? Everything. Try a little experiment. Unless you’re reading this in the car (I know I’m interesting, but don’t do that while driving!), you’re probably at a computer. Slump down really far. Further. The posture that gives a chiropractor bad dreams… There you go… Raise your shoulder up as high as you can. Keep it up. Now, sit tall and straighten your back and neck. Raise your shoulder higher. Probably got about 20 degrees higher, right? Your mid back (AKA thoracic spine) MUST be able to straighten or extend to get your shoulder blade and upper arm to be able to raise to it’s full capacity. Chronic poor posture leads to a stiff thoracic spine and limits shoulder range, ultimately causing early wear on the cartilage and tendons that support the shoulder. The fix? Straighten up! Get your head back over your center of gravity by making sure your ears are inline with the middle of your shoulders Think of sitting tall like the kid who’s 1/2″ too short to get on a roller coaster. It may be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll thank me in the long run.
This is a pretty broad topic here, but what I want you to realize is two things. First, you don’t need to be a super-athlete or assembly line worker to have repetitive use. Second, it’s not necessarily the overuse, as much as it is overuse with poor form. If you are a chronic texter or cell phone user, take a quick glimpse at the elevation of your shoulders. Is your shoulder nudging up to your ear like it’s trying to cop a cheap feel? “Hey baby, I love your lobes!” (I’m sorry, did I mention it’s past 2 AM?) When you’re using a mouse, are you using just from your elbow down or are you using the whole arm? Ladies, how much does that purse weigh? My weight lifting friends, are you always hiking up your 45 pound plates with your right arm primarily? See? There are a lot of things you don’t think of as repetitive motion, but they are. They tend to cause that wear and tear over time if you are not spreading the love to the opposite arm once in a while, or if you disregard the form. Get that shoulder away from your ear! (See the first bad habit for a reminder why.) Use both arms when you can. Keep your elbows close to your body to minimize leverage placed on your shoulders by the things you lift up. Take a peak in the mirror, and if you look like Frankenstein in the shoulders, go get a massage and get adjusted. Stretch them out. Ice and use KinetiCream if they do get overused and become sore, and do what you can to reduce mental stress, as it will help them stay relaxed.
Sorry to my orthopedic surgeon friends. I love you all dearly, but I just gave my readers the tools to stay away from the knife for the shoulder in most cases. I’m sure you’ll stay busy with those who don’t read this…
Guys and girls, please share this on Facebook and Twitter with your friends and family. I enjoy writing it, but I enjoy people getting to read it even more.