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Healthy Habits for Bonsall & Fallbrook Folks: Rotator cuff injury – when less is more

Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough

Special to the Village News

Our shoulder joint is a leading commander for our upper body movements. Composed of four ligaments (tissues that connect bones to other bones) that stabilize the shoulder, injury to the area is quite common. Repetitive motions, especially overhead movements, are a major culprit.

Baseball and tennis athletes as well as carpenters and painters, are all common victims. Think of a baseball pitcher who raises his arm over and over to throw the strike. Think of a painter who reaches up to paint and brushes strokes. The same goes for a carpenter reaching up to place dry wall or fix part of the ceiling. It isn't that one particular job that created damage, rather it was the years of that same task he or she has mastered and is now highly in demand for.

An injury to this area doesn't have to be an explosive tear, rather it can be an accumulation of wear and tear over time. Over time, those four ligaments can degenerate. That is why we become more susceptible as we age. It goes without saying that most times it is our dominant arm that gets hurt.

Injury to the area might at first be dull and aggravated at night when you sleep on that particular side. Then daily living tasks start to be bothersome. Brushing your hair or putting a shirt on can be painful. Then the arm just feels weak. Ignoring the pain can eventually lead to mobility loss. The shoulder needs to be rested to rebuild the tissue.

The catch is that the shoulder shouldn't be kept in an immobilized position because that can lead to a frozen shoulder due to the joint becoming enclosed. That is not easy to experience considering many of our arm movements are the result of the rotator cuff's primary and secondary role in our motions.

Being proactive and taking preventative measures is important when you live a life that involves high rotator cuff usage. Strength training can help build the joint, but this means working all angles of the joint both front and back. Stretching is also recommended. Upon injury, getting the inflammation under control is necessary. Ice and rest are the first steps to recovery. Taking turmeric can also be of help.

Next, getting a shoulder sling is recommended to limit range of motion until the area is ready. This will force you to avoid aggravating movements. The sling will also relieve some pain and typically these are worn for 2-4 weeks. Trying a diet similar to the Mediterranean approach of fresh fruits and vegetables with no red meat can help lower inflammation. Fish with omega-3 are also recommended. Eating foods with added chemicals and that are highly processed should be avoided.

To review, rest, ice, get a sling, eat right, and then over time strengthen the area via resistance training gradually until range of motion improves.

Certain body parts seem to come with an expiration date and that dominant arm's rotator cuff puts up with quite a bit that we do in our lives. Over and over, it stabilizes our movements and keeps the shoulder intact.

We aren't machines, but we are built to last pretty long. Be mindful of overuse, be proactive to prevent muscle imbalances that can cause injury, and when your shoulder aches, give it the attention it is asking you for.

Megan Johnson McCullough, Ed.D., recently earned her doctorate in physical education and health science, is a professional natural bodybuilder and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine master trainer.


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