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How To Prevent Rotator Cuff Injuries

Categories: Exercise, Injury

I’m going to go through what rotator cuff injuries are and how that can then lead to shoulder pain and shoulder problems.

You might think that shoulder work as a runner might be lower down on your priority. You might be thinking your legs need a bit more strength work putting into them, but your shoulders are just as important, particularly when it comes to obstacle races. It is a given that your shoulders and your upper body strength is going to be needed, particularly if you're thinking about pull-ups and monkey bars and any rig work that you might be doing, but link it back into your running form. You're going to be using the arm movement through your normal natural swing. So the positioning that you're going to be in is really important.

Your shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint, and as a joint itself, it's quite an unstable one, purely because of how the ball element sits into the socket. It's quite shallow, but that allows your arm to do so much movement. But because of that, it leads to those moments of instability.

Your rotator cuff muscles are there to help stabilize your shoulder joint. You've got your infraspinatus that sits across the back of your shoulder blade, your supraspinatus that sits across the top, your subscapularis that sits behind your shoulder blade, and your teres minor.

The four muscles that make up your rotator cuff are important to stabilise the joint. But if they get injured, through any inflammation, a tear or repetitive use, even just a strain, there can be a real problem to try and recover from. The pain that you might feel could be anything from a mild dull ache to a severe sharp stabbing pain.  There's never a guide to say the pain level for the severity of the injury for these ones. So it can then affect your running performance. You might find it harder to do any overhead work and you might find it pinching. You'll maybe lose some strength within your shoulder. Bad posture can be one cause of it because of the rounding of your shoulders.

The things to think about if you think you might have a rotator cuff injuries, is looking back at what your posture is like, have you been doing a lot of the same type of exercises and what sort of pain are you in? Can you still lift your arm above your head? Can you do your bra straps up? Are you getting pain doing strength work? These could be signs that you might have some rotator cuff damage.

The repetitive side of the injuries come in if they've got then inflammation within the tendons or that's then rubbing against the bursa that is within your shoulder.

From an exercise point of view, you need to be looking at strengthening your shoulders and putting an element of that within to your normal training routine. A few exercises I like to do are the internal and external rotation. You're having your arms bent at 90 degrees, you could use a resistance band or dumbbell, then you're moving your arm in and out. And depending on where you put that element of resistance will make it an either an external rotation to strengthen or an internal rotation to strengthen.

You've got an effective exercise where you could lay on your side and lift your arm out and back in. Make it a little bit harder by adding in that dumbbell. Laying on your side gives you that element of control with it. Adding in high and low rows, you can use a resistance band, attach it to a door frame and you’re pulling down on it. That's looking at strengthening your back, but also getting your shoulder working in that controlled manner.

Another couple of good exercises if you're looking at shoulder strengthening rather than just specific rotator cuff muscle exercises, is to do upright rows. Holding your weight in front of you and pulling up, trying to keep your elbows and shoulders level as you're bringing it up.  Or even then doing reverse flyes.

As a final note your shoulders are just as important when you thinking about your running form, so you must incorporate an element of shoulder strength work into your training programme to help keep your body balanced.