Women over 54 are at the highest risk for this joint pain. Make sure you’re not one of them with this fitness plan.
You walk for your knees, stretch for your back, and lift weights for your bones. But what about your shoulders? Too often ignored, the complex joints require at least as much attention as your body’s other high-maintenance areas: Shoulder pain accounts for 16% of all reported muscle and joint pain, second only to lower-back discomfort. The potential causes are myriad, from fraying cartilage and inflamed bursa to more serious tears in the rotator cuff, a juncture of four tendons at the top of the shoulder that help it rotate smoothly and keep it stable. Arthritis, pinched nerves, and a general tightening of the joint called frozen shoulder can also make daily activities—even washing your hair or brushing your teeth—difficult.
If you suffer an acute injury and have a full tear of your rotator cuff, surgery may be the option that offers the best chance for a complete recovery.
But if your shoulder pain develops gradually and without injury, you’re better off initially trying rehabilitation and nonoperative treatments. “The vast majority of women with shoulder pain don’t require surgery,” says Joseph Zuckerman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases. Research shows that about two-thirds of patients with moderate shoulder pain can eliminate their discomfort without it.
Here are some tips and a 15-minute fitness plan that will keep your shoulders happy for decades to come.
At A Glance
What you need: An exercise bench, an exercise ball, or a bed and light weights (1 to 4 pounds). You can also use cans of food, or filled small water bottles.
Tip: Light weights best target the many small muscles around the rotator cuff.
What to do: See exercises (below). Aim for 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps, once a day, 3 times a week, on nonconsecutive days. (If you can’t do that many reps even with no weight, do what you can.) Do 1 set of each exercise before moving on to the second set. Start with no weight, then gradually add 1 pound every week or two, working up to 4 pounds over a 6- to 8-week period.
Tip: Don’t concentrate only on the lifting phase of the exercises; it’s the lowering motion that best strengthens the rotator cuff. Do the exercise slowly, keeping the pace uniform in each direction.
Option: The fitness plan exercises that follow can be done while standing if you don’t have a bench. Make sure you bend over at the hips so that your torso is parallel to the floor. Bend your knees slightly and support yourself by placing one hand on your thigh as you work the opposite arm to minimize strain on your lower back.
1. The “I” Flex Hold a weight in right hand. Lie facedown on exercise bench, exercise ball, or bed with right arm hanging down, palm facing in. (If you have a bench, you can work both arms together for any of these moves.) Keeping elbow straight, slowly raise weight forward until arm is level with body, thumb toward ceiling. (If you imagine that your head is at 12 o’clock and your feet at 6 o’clock, your right hand should point to 1 o’clock.)
If you feel pain, don’t lift as high, staying within a comfortable range of motion. Your shoulder will still benefit, and you can expand your range as your shoulder strengthens and feels better over the next few weeks.
Lower slowly. Repeat 10 times. Switch sides and repeat sequence with left arm rising to the 11 o’clock position.
2. The “T” Move In same start position and with same weight, turn palm forward and raise one arm at a time to 3 o’clock on right and 9 o’clock on left, thumb toward ceiling. (If done simultaneously, your body would form a T.)
3. The “Y” Move Next, raise arm to side, slightly in front of you. Do one arm at a time, bringing right arm to 2 o’clock and left to 10 o’clock.