Shoulder injuries are more common than you might think. Whether you’re an athlete, a desk worker, a fitness enthusiast, or something in between, you’re susceptible to facing a shoulder injury if you don’t properly prepare your body for certain movements and activities. In 2006 alone, 7.5 million people reportedly went to the doctor with complaints of a shoulder injury. That number has likely increased over the last 14 years.
If you’ve ever experienced a shoulder injury, you may be one of the many people who didn’t exactly receive the most useful advice from the doctor. This isn’t uncommon. There are some injuries that doctors simply don’t have the answers for. Shoulder injury recovery is a necessary practice for anyone who’s experienced issues with their shoulders in the past. If you don’t sink your teeth into the recovery process, your chances of getting back to 100% dwindle down.
I know better than anyone what it means to go through a rough shoulder injury—as well as a shoulder surgery. I’ve learned many tips along the way that hopefully can be useful to you if you’re dealing with a nasty shoulder injury. Be patient and keep working at it. You’ll see the results eventually. Here are four tips for shoulder injury recovery.
Rest Your Body
This is by far the most important step to take—but it’s the hardest one to execute. If you love to workout or at least be outside and lead an active life, resting will be the hardest thing for you to do, but it’s a necessary step in shoulder injury recovery. Take time off from training your upper body or doing any activity that will aggravate your injury. Depending on what kind of injury you have, you may have to rest completely or you may simply have to avoid certain movements or positions. Listen to your body and look out for the cues that tell you what not to do.
A common mistake is getting back into the swing of things before your shoulder injury is really ready for it. I know how difficult it is to sit at home, refrain from training, and feel like you’re not doing anything with yourself. But sometimes this kind of “boring” rest is exactly what the body needs. No matter how much you’re itching to get back to the gym, give your shoulder injury the recovery it needs. That might mean you stay at home an extra week or two even after you feel like you’re ready to get into it.
Introduce Simple Movement as Early as You Can
It’s important to introduce blood flow to the injured area as soon as it feels comfortable. This will help flush out dead tissue cells, slowly increase the range of motion, and reduce inflammation. But don’t get me wrong—this doesn’t mean you should just jump into moving around your shoulders. Start slowly and gradually, introducing simple movements to your shoulder girdle in order to speed up the recovery process.
Start by shrugging the shoulder, circling the arm to perform shoulder CARs, or performing the four main actions of the scapula (depression, retraction, protraction, elevation) in order to bring blood flow to the shoulders. Once you feel comfortable enough to move the shoulder joint, make sure you’re moving your shoulder every day, especially in the morning and evening. This will help you recover faster and reach full range of motion sooner. If you’re not sure what kind of movements to introduce to your shoulder, speak to a physical therapist or a trainer who understands the exact injury you have and how to help you recover faster.
Try Passive Hanging Every Day
Passive hanging is an underrated task that has tremendously useful benefits for the shoulders. However, before you think about incorporating passive hanging into your recovery programming, make sure you’re able to hang without any pain or discomfort in your shoulder. You can do assisted hanging, meaning you can put one or both of your feet on a bench or box to take some weight out of the grip and into your legs. This will allow you to still get the benefits of hanging without doing the full expression of it.
Perhaps the greatest thing that comes from passive hanging regularly is the mobility and range you gain from the natural stretch in the hang. Additionally, passive hanging corrects the issues that come about from sitting all day and being hunched over a desk or cell phone. This kind of sedentary lifestyle shrinks the gap between the acromion and the humerus bone, called the subacromial space. Tendons run between this gap. When this gap shrinks, it’s more likely that the acromion and the humerus bone rub together and pinch the tendons, which causes shoulder impingement and other common types of shoulder injury.
Aim to hang every day for 5 accumulated minutes. Do this assisted if you need to, especially if your shoulder injury is severe. But if you can do it with your feet hanging with the full weight in your hands, even better.
Use Ice and Heat as Needed
There’s a lot of debate in the fitness and martial arts community about whether ice or heat is best to heal injuries. I recommend only icing your injury within the first 48 hours to reduce inflammation, but after that icing may not do much good. Heat therapy will help you relax the muscles in the shoulder area and soothe any stiffness you might be feeling. So if it’s been more than 48 hours since the injury itself, I would recommend applying heat to the area regularly to stimulate blood flow and ease the muscles. Infrared lights work great, especially at night before you go to sleep.