Shoulder Pain and Injuries Impacts Daily Living. What Can We Do?

During this week’s HealthYeah interview, Excy co-founder and CEO Michele Mehl sat down with Alex Wirta, clinical director and physical therapist at Bridle Trails. According to research, shoulder pain affects 18-26 percent of adults at any point in time. Symptoms can be persistent and disabling in terms of an individual’s ability to carry out daily activities both at home and in the workplace. Even simple tasks can feel almost impossible when dealing with shoulder pain and injuries. So, we spent our time with Alex speaking about physical therapy rehab and prehab approaches to keeping shoulders healthier.

As a former collegiate baseball player, Alex (PT, DPT) has a personal connection to reducing the number of arm injuries in youth baseball and softball players. He’s particularly passionate about helping the “overhead athlete”, who faces unique injury risks due to the strain placed on shoulders during practice and games. His overall approach to physical therapy focuses on treatments with long-term benefits and empowering patients to achieve sustainable physical health through wellness education.

Jump into the HealthYeah interview with Alex anytime by clicking on the below video. We’ve also included a summary recap below for your reading pleasure.

Shoulder Injuries: Prevention Versus Treatment

During the interview, Alex talks about how most people only seek out a physical therapist after an injury, but he wanted to emphasize the importance of preventative care. As a he mentions, taking a proactive prehab approach can be helpful in strengthening your body to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. For example, to strengthen shoulders, Alex focuses on how youth baseball and softball players should properly train their shoulder muscles. In the below image, you can see Alex working with a youth baseball player to teach proper use of J-Bands. Frequently, Alex will see athletes quickly move through exercises, which can often cause more harm than good. This is why Alex frequently works with athletes, teams, and parents to teach good form.

He also discusses how all age groups can benefit from upper body strengthening. This includes women, who he sees struggle more with shoulder pain and injuries throughout menopause. For example, older generations can engage in upper body exercises to prevent or mitigate the effects of arthritis. Preventative care, like upper body ergometric exercises with Excy, can strengthen back and shoulder muscles and help decrease shoulder injuries. 

Building Upper Body Strength Improves Quality of Life

During the interview, we discuss how shoulder injuries can make small tasks we take for granted – like getting dressed and cooking – painful endeavors. We also discuss how shoulder pain can also make sleeping more difficult, which leads to future health ramifications. Keeping our upper bodies strong is directly connected to maintaining, and even improving, our quality of life. Alex also helps connect the dots between neck and shoulder injuries. Neck pain, often related to poor posture, is a common workplace injury for employees constantly sitting at a desk. Along with poor posture, “tech neck” is an increasing problem. As devices permeate every aspect of our lives, the endless act of looking down at technology is causing neck and shoulder pain. These small injuries can have large effects on your quality of life.

What Can We Do Daily to Help Prevent Injury?

Core stability has been linked to injury prevention. Because of this, your trunk (torso) should be a crucial component of any upper body conditioning exercise routine. Alex helps us understand how to engage in upper body exercises that also help strengthen your trunk. During the interview, he encourages people to not just perform typical arm exercises you see most people doing at the gym. While we crave instant gratification, the muscles we cannot see working are just as important as those we can admire in the mirror.

He also discusses why it’s important to train your upper body body to sustain a load for longer increments of time. Sets of free weights at the gym are a useful strength building tool, but they only strain your muscles for a minute or two at a time. To sustain future activities (such as shoveling snow after a storm) we need to train our bodies to tolerate a heavy load for longer time periods. This is where ergonomic exercises must enter our workout routine. Ergonomic exercises can be incredibly simple, and can even include a work routine while sitting in bed.

They key take-away during the interview with Alex to improve overall shoulder and upper body conditioning is to be more active! Being active does not have to involve spending hours daily at the gym. It can be as simple as getting up from your desk and moving once an hour to reset your body. 

Alex’s Physical Therapy Tool Bag

As someone who specializes in overhead athlete injuries and prevention, Alex focuses on upper body and shoulder strength training. One of his favorite exercises is the simple bear crawl because it distributes body weight through the arms. These types of arm bearing exercises, including plank variations and other crawling maneuvers, improve overall joint health and work multiple muscle groups at once.

To help strengthen your trunk, Alex also uses balance-oriented exercises. Just by focusing on holding yourself steady with one leg, or only holding weight on one side of your body, you are engaging your trunk to stabilize your body.

Alex’s Key Pieces of Advice for Shoulder Health

  1. Make sure you are doing something for your upper back. Train those muscles with overhead and pulling motions.
  2. Engage in exercises that bear weight through your arms. This can include simple variations of your plank and push-up exercises or short yoga routines. Even daily hand stands if your body allows!
  3. Increase your load-bearing endurance so your body is physically prepared for unexpected events in the future.
  4. If you experience an unusual pain, get a consultation from a physical therapist to determine your next best steps.

Final Thoughts

While physical therapy is crucial to rehabilitating an injury, it is also an important tool for injury prevention for everyone. It will improve quality of life and reduce your risk for injury in the future. Engaging in physical therapy exercises when they are not medically prescribed is both a lifestyle choice and an investment in your future.

Follow our HealthYeah live blog interview series to find more inspiring ways to live healthier every day, in every way! 

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