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Weekend Athletes Don't Have to Have Shoulder Pain

04-16-2018

Although many of us are stuck in the office from Monday to Friday, Californians like to get out on their days off and have fun hiking, biking, surfing, or playing ball.

Exercise is essential to our health, but there’s a downside to going all out on the weekend. Intermittent, vigorous activity carries the risk of injury—especially in our major joints. And the older we get, the greater the risk.

For instance, you may notice a new pain in your shoulder when you do things you used to do with no trouble. Even simple things like driving, throwing a ball or raising your arm over your head can become uncomfortable, if not downright painful.

“Weekend athletes must work harder and smarter to gain the benefits of occasional exercise while reducing the risks that an active lifestyle poses to the shoulder and other joints,” says Michael Marandola, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Mission Hospital.

The shoulder is surprisingly complicated. With three major bones, more than 30 muscles, and six major ligaments, the shoulder has the greatest degree of movement of any joint in the body—over 1,600 different positions. However, that complexity can make the shoulder prone to overuse and damage.

Some of the most common shoulder injuries include rotator cuff tear and shoulder impingement syndrome.

Rotator cuff tear means you have torn the tendons of the four rotator cuff muscles. These muscles are responsible for some of the shoulder’s motion. This injury can occur at any age, but age, height, body mass index, and level of activity are all risk factors. In other words, older and bigger people are more at risk of rotator cuff tear when playing sports that involve overhead motions—swimming, volleyball, baseball, tennis and football.

Shoulder impingement syndrome—which you probably know as swimmer’s shoulder and thrower’s shoulder—occurs when the rotator cuff tendons become inflamed and irritated. This can result in chronic shoulder pain, weakness, and restriction of the shoulder’s movement.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Injury

“Orthopedic surgeons are used to treating sports injuries, so we understand the athlete’s desire to get back in the game right away,” says Dr. Marandola. The recommended approach is usually to first try a range of treatments from cold packs to anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen) to physical therapy to steroid injections—only advancing to surgery when it is the best remaining solution for relieving chronic pain and getting you back to doing the things you love to do.

Dr. Marandola offers the following advice for weekend athletes to avoid ending up in his consultation room or the ER:

  • First and foremost, stay in the best possible shape.
  • Stretch and warm up thoroughly before exercising; and don’t overdo it.
  • Be mindful of what you’re doing to your body and protect your joints—shoulders, knees, elbows, hips, and wrists.
  • Stay somewhat active during the work week so that the transition to weekend activity is not so abrupt.
  • If you have weak joints, use braces and supports—and buy good shoes with adequate support.
  • Keep your perspective. Remember, sports and exercise are supposed to be fun.

If you eventually elect surgery for shoulder injury, Mission Hospital’s orthopedic experts have the skill and technology to perform world-class procedures from rotator cuff repair to total joint replacement. This includes advanced imaging techniques and computer-aided sizing of surgical components to ensure the optimal, longest-lasting result.

Learn more about Mission Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Marandola.