Preventing and healing rotator cuff injuries

For those of you who swing a golf club or a racket for exercise, here's a little information about shoulder and rotator cuff injuries.

The shoulder area called the "rotator cuff" is comprised of three small muscles and their tendons: the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus and the teres minor. They run from the top of the shoulder blade to the top of the arm bone. It's no surprise that overuse in certain repetitive sports will irritate these muscles and their attaching tendons. When you raise your arm to an upright position, the tendons rub the bony undersurface of your shoulder blade, and with continuous use, tearing may occur resulting in inflammation and swelling. The more inflammation and swelling there is, the less room for the tendons to maneuver and the more damage to muscle tissue.

Golfers suffer from rotator cuff tendonitis, more commonly called "golfer's shoulder," due to the full-arm swing needed for a strong, forceful ball strike. When rotator cuff muscles are weak, your deltoid muscles take over. They are the ones on the cap of the shoulder. Most golfers will work on strengthening the deltoids to give plenty of strength to their swing. However, recent medical studies show that it is the supraspinatus, infraspinatus and the teres minor that hold the shoulder stable, and get the most usage during the golf swing. These three muscles hold the ball and socket of the shoulder joint together, and are the muscles that need the extra strengthening.

Muscles require stretching as well as strengthening to maintain a safe balance. Shoulder stretches should be done, alternating with strengthening moves. Hold your arm out in front of you and support it with your other hand. Pull your arm to your chest for a good "chest press," then wrap your arm around your neck as if you were going to scratch in the middle of your shoulder blades. Then do the same thing with your arm up over your head,. bending it to touch your shoulder blades. To strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, use light arm weights; a pound or two will be enough to build muscle. Hold your arms out to the side parallel with the floor and lower and lift the weights slowly up and down just half way. Now, lie on your side and hold that weight against your side at a right angle to the ceiling. In slow motion, lower the arm down to a parallel position with the floor.

These exercises should be done only if the rotator muscle area is not inflamed or injured. Do them for about 10 minutes every other day, using five to 10 repetitions. If any soreness occurs, lighten weights and lessen repetitions. If the soreness continues, stop and give the injured area time to heal. Continued exercise on an injured muscle will only lengthen the healing time and build scar tissue that will be resistant to full movement.

• Jerry Vance is the owner of Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through the Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Carson City Senior Citizens Center.


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