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The keys to preventing shoulder injuries

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Shoulder exercises like pendulums and side lateral raises will strengthen the shoulders and arms and help prevent future injury. 

By Drs. Marco and Paolo De Ciantis

Shoulder injuries happen every day, especially in winter when walking is treacherous and sports can be too. In particular, shoulder injuries can occur from popular activities such as snowboarding, snow shoeing, skating and ice hockey. These sports pose a particularly unique problem to shoulders since they all involve the distinct risk of falling.

Normally, when people lose their balance they tend to reach out with their arms to break their fall. This act cannot only injure elements of the hand, wrist, forearm and upper arm, but the force can also significantly damage the shoulder.  

The shoulder joint—also known as the glenohumeral joint—is a complicated “ball and socket” joint. It is comprised of several ligaments, the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor) and their corresponding tendons that all function to stabilize the shoulder.

Trauma incurred by using your upper extremities to break your fall includes FOOSH—a fall on outstretched hand. It can transfer lots of force to the glenohumeral joint. If the force is greater than the capacity of the muscle, tendons, ligaments or bones in this area, then damage can occur.

This is how shoulders can get injured without a direct trauma or impact to the shoulder region itself. Injury can range from a relatively innocuous contusion (bruise) to a tear of tendons or muscles and even fracture or dislocation of the joint. These types of injuries may need serious rehabilitation.

Below are a few exercises that can help strengthen your shoulder muscles and help prevent future injury. Do each exercise for one minute.

Wall walks 

These can be done at home or in the office—all you need is a wall. Stand a few feet away from the wall and then slowly “walk” upwards with your hands. Go up as far as you can, to the point where you start to feel discomfort. Bending your elbows slightly is okay. The trick is to come down the wall at the same pace/time as it took you to go up. Repeat.


Bend at your waist with one arm hanging down and your other arm supporting your upper body on a table or desk. Let your hanging arm dangle until it starts to feel heavy. Then, hold a small weight (one to two pounds) or even a small water bottle and swing your arm in a circular motion clockwise and counter clockwise for one minute. Repeat with other arm.

Side lateral raises 

Start with your arms by your sides, holding a small weight (one to two pounds) in both hands. With your arms straight, bring them up 90° (at shoulder height) beside you and then bring them back down. Repeat.

Front lateral raises 

This is exactly like the side lateral raises, except you are lifting your arms in front of you, not at your sides. Repeat.

Lateral and internal rotation of the shoulder

Start with your arms beside you. With your right arm, bend the elbow 90° as if you are holding a glass. Then, move your arm across your chest and then back to the outside aspect of your torso (the elbow should be beside you the entire time). To intensify this exercise, use a resistance band. Repeat with other arm.

Although these exercises will help strengthen the shoulder and arm muscles, when performing sporting activities in the winter it is critically important to wear all required protective equipment in order to reduce or prevent the likelihood of injury. Furthermore, be vigilant to avoid scenarios where injury can occur, like snowboarding down a steep slope that would require advanced skills not developed in a novice or beginner. As always, prevention is key to avoid injury.

More Knowledge: Here’s a great article on feeling your body to stay energized!

Authors: Drs. Marco and Paolo De Ciantis are Toronto-based chiropractic doctors and co-owners of Sports Specialist Rehab Centre. The identical twins specialize in pain and injury prevention, working with a range of patients from athletes looking to improve their performance to individuals who simply want day-to-day tasks to be easier, in an effort to restore optimal well-being.


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