Have you ever wondered how baseball pitchers can have such different throwing motions and create so many variations of a pitch? It's the shoulder, an amazing joint that can make the arm throw overhand or underhand at almost 100 miles per hour, and seconds later make full circles frontward or backward. But the feats performed by this most mobile joint in the body stress the shoulder in ways that make it prone to injury.
The shoulder joint is often thought of as a golf ball sitting on a tee: The large, rounded end of the humerus (upper-arm bone) moves within the scooped out glenoid head (or socket of the scapula bone in the back) next to the end of the clavicle (collarbone). But unlike a golf ball that is launched from a tee, the head of the arm must remain in a confined space and still move freely. A complex of multiple tendons attached to muscles, with support from ligaments, makes this happen without us having to give it a conscious thought.
Shoulder injuries can be caused by various activities that involve excessive overhead motion, such as swimming, tennis and baseball, but they also occur when people perform less strenuous household chores and hobbies, such as washing windows and gardening.
Pain is the most common symptom of shoulder injury. Variable degrees of stiffness and a locking sensation may occur with or without pain. Sometimes a shoulder injury can lead to numbness or tingling down the arm.
If you have injured your shoulder, pain is a useful indicator to guide how much to use it. Unless your doctor or physical therapist gives you other instructions, limit activities and arm motions that are aggravating the pain. Here are some specific suggestions to help minimize the pain:
Keeping physically fit with a balanced program of aerobics, stretching and strengthening all your body parts helps to prevent shoulder injuries. If you think you have injured your shoulder, consult a physician or physical therapist before starting an exercise program. Here are some specific tips for the shoulders:
Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital.