Keeping your shoulder mobile may reduce your risk for feeling pain

You probably don’t realize how much you rely on your shoulders unless you’ve dealt with an issue that has made it difficult to use it normally. Practically every moment you perform that involves your hands or arms impacts the shoulder or requires it to be completed. The shoulder is essential in most of the activities you do in any given day, and it opens up the possibility of a wide range of functions.

Unfortunately, the shoulder is also one of the most commonly injured joints in the body, which is primarily due to it being so mobile and allowing the arm to move in so many directions. A variety of shoulder conditions can strike at any age, with some problems being more likely to occur later in life due to an accumulation of damage and natural bodily changes. Most cases of shoulder pain are related to the rotator cuff, which is a group of four muscles that stabilize the shoulder and protect it from injury. Although the mechanism behind all shoulder injuries is different, the end result is usually the same: a recurring pain that interferes with one’s ability to reach overhead and perform many activities that involve the shoulder.

But even though shoulder pain is so common, this does not mean it’s not a foregone conclusion, even if you participate in lots of overhead activities. Shoulder pain can be prevented, and the most effective way to keep your risk for injury low is by increasing its mobility and stability with a specific set of exercises.

There are many muscles that contribute to the function of the shoulder, including those of the upper and mid-back, chest, and shoulders, and the more toned and balanced these muscles are, the lower the risk for shoulder injury. Maintaining the strength of these muscles will also help you achieve symmetry and optimize your functional movements that involve the shoulder with better flexibility and mobility. The end result is a reduced risk for all causes of shoulder pain. Below are four of the best exercises to keep your shoulders mobile and strong and prevent injury:

The 4 best shoulder exercises for injury prevention

  • Scaption: this term is an abbreviation for “scapular plane elevation” because it involves the scapula (shoulder blade); scaption exercises employ the scapula and rhomboid muscles of the upper back to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff, particularly the supraspinatus, and will also help to keep the shoulder more mobile and flexible

    • How to perform: stand with a weight in one hand and your thumb pointed toward the ceiling; raise your arm at a 45-degree angle from the body toward ceiling to shoulder height for five seconds

    • Repeat for two sets of 10 repetitions, twice per day

  • Bent over row: this exercise strengthens several muscles of the upper back, including the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, and trapezius; building up your back muscles will prevent your shoulders from rolling forward and will also help to reinforce good principles of shoulder retraction, which is important for healthy shoulders

    • How to perform: bend forward with one arm hanging down while keeping your spine straight; pull your elbow toward the ceiling and squeeze your shoulder blades inward, holding for five seconds

    • Repeat for two sets of 10 repetitions, twice per day

  • Resisted external rotation: this type of exercise primarily targets the infraspinatus, which is a very important rotator cuff muscle; its main function is to rotate the upper arm bone (humerus) away from the body, and keeping this muscle strong and mobile will therefore improve one’s ability to perform this movement and reduce the risk for injury in the process; it also strengthens another rotator cuff muscle called the teres minor and the deltoids of the shoulder

    • How to perform: lie on your side with your head supported by a pillow or hand, and place a towel roll between your elbow and torso; while holding a weight and keeping your arm bent at 90 degrees, move your hand towards the ceiling and hold for five seconds

    • Repeat for two sets of 10 repetitions, twice per day

  • Chest press: the chest press is one of the most effective muscles for the upper body, as it works the pectoral muscles in the chest, the deltoids in the shoulders, and triceps in the arms; maintaining the strength of these muscles will add to the stability of the shoulder to further increase injury protection

    • How to perform: stand facing the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart, about 2-3 feet away from wall; place your hands on the wall at shoulder height, and then slowly bend your elbows and lean forward, then extend your elbows, holding for five seconds

    • Repeat for two sets of 10 repetitions, twice per day


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