How to Prevent Shoulder Injury

For some time I have wanted to put this article out for everyone. I recently added another article titled “How To Work Out Your Shoulders”: check it out  here at WatchFit site.

While many articles offer great ideas for the best results, the shoulders require even more information and attention, so there are a few things to discuss for this area of the human body.


Some facts about the shoulders

To begin with, the shoulder “joint” has an amazing degree of available movement. It is a multi-directional joint that allows our arms to move pretty much any way that we please. While that is a wonderful thing, it also comes with a related level of risk.

When we think of a joint, we typically picture a ball-and-socket, much like the hip. Actually, the shoulder is not a true joint. Think of it as a ‘wing with straps’, holding the upper arm underneath it, into the underside of that wing. These ‘straps’ are the muscles of the rotator cuff and they act as the hinge, allowing the upper arm to swivel and swing as we move our arms about.

The top end of the arm must turn/swivel, otherwise the bone would press into the wing and cause major problems. The above mentioned muscles allow the arm bone end to swivel or rotate; hence the name of that muscle group.

The rotator cuff muscles are not big. They can be very problematic, simply due to their function and location deep in the shoulder, so we might want to take a look at how to protect them.

Next, on top of the rotator cuff is the “deltoid”, named for its shape with three heads. These heads are, by position: the front (anterior), side (medial) and rear heads.

This top layer of muscle is the real power of the shoulder. The front head is probably the strongest in most people, so we might want to look at getting this muscle layer a little more evened out, so that all three heads are adequately strong in relation to each other.

Shoulders movements

When performing shoulder exercises, there are about five movements that should be considered and one of them is simply an alternate for those with chronic shoulder issues. I will briefly address these movements, but for the purposes of this article, I will concentrate on the tips for safety and effectiveness.

The first movement addresses the rotator cuff.


This is a movement where your 90-degree bent arm rotates outward or inward (the above-mentioned article walks you through the steps). There are two tips for safety here:

– First, when you rotate outward (external rotation), make sure to stop the rotation when you begin to feel tension. You can go too far here and that will put too much stress on the tissues.

– Second, your upper arm should never be raised above 90 degrees for your torso. Think of an airplane wing. If you stand with your arms fully outstretched to the sides, that’s 90 degrees. If you continue to raise them, you will put a “pinch” or “impingement” on the tissues, as the arm swings upward and pushes into the shoulder wing above. Just stay at, or near the 90° angle.

Shoulder (or Military) Press

This movement is simply pushing your hands upward, while holding a barbell or dumbbells in hand.

– First tip is range of motion. Lower end of the movement should have your hands at nose/ear level. Upper end should be just short of locking out the elbows.

– Next tip is forearm position. They should be absolutely vertical throughout the movement. The tendency is to find them tilting inward as you push upward. The forearms will “sweep” inward as your elbows arc up and in, but they should remain vertical.

In addition, as you descend downward, there is a tendency to allow the elbows to move backward, leaving the forearms tilting forward. The ensuing upward push now moves entirely forward slightly. Make sure you keep your elbows directly under your wrists upon descent. As you push upward, imagine your hands tracking to the rear slightly.

This won’t actually happen but the image will keep you moving vertically and will prevent the forearms from tilting forward.

One thing I’m constantly asked: “If it is bad to raise your arms above 90 degrees (as mentioned above in Rotation), then how can you do that with the Shoulder Press?”.

Good question. The answer is that the Shoulder Press is performed with forearms vertical, palms forward (as in a hands up robbery scenario!). When you do that, the upper arm is externally rotated and that frees up the shoulder joint to allow more upward movement.

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Front Arm Raises

Some people cannot perform a shoulder press due to prior injury, loss of rotator cuff attachment, or other permanent problem, so this is the alternate I mentioned earlier. With this movement, you simply hold dumbbells in each hand and alternately swing them out in front, so the arm swings upward.

The tip here is to keep the hands “thumbs-up”, as in gripping a hammer. Many people perform these palms-down, but that is a bit riskier. You’re trying to hit the anterior head of the deltoid, so thumbs-up will be most efficient and safe.

Side Lateral Raises

Just as the name implies, this movement is performed by standing upright and swinging your arms to the side, allowing them to swing upward into the airplane wing position.

– The first tip is to make sure they are moving directly out to the side. Most people allow the arms to move slightly forward. Use a side marker point of reference if needed.

– Second tip is to imagine pushing the dumbbells sideways, not swinging them upward. Think OUT, not UP! This keeps the shoulder ‘seated’ and safer.

– Thirdly, as your arms swing out away from your body, the hands tend to go thumbs-up, so tilt them very slightly thumbs-down; not too much, just very slightly. This will hit the medial/side head more effectively.

– Finally, when descending back to “start”, don’t go all the way down. Stop when your hands are a few inches away from your sides. This keeps more tension on the deltoid: much more effective!

Rear Pull-Backs

This is performed by starting with arms fully extended out front, then sweeping them to the rear to hit that rear deltoid head. The tip here is to keep the arms at or near that 90 degree angle to the torso. Raising them higher will overstress the rotator cuff muscles, particularly the supraspinatus.

Keeping our shoulders strong is a vital key to physical health, so it only makes sense to focus on these safety and effectiveness measures for best results.

To read more from Bill Wilson, visit his Expert Profile.

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