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Why Non-Swimmers Get “Swimmer’s Shoulder”

Swimmers often complain of aches and pains in their shoulder that either keeps them from swimming or limits how well they swim.  In one study, as much as 50% of swimmers experienced shoulder pain, often referred to as “swimmers shoulder.” Due to the repetitive movements that swimmers must perform at their shoulders, they tend to more prone to overuse injuries at their shoulder.  One of the common risk factors with swimmers is observed during hand entry in which the hand crosses midline.  This can cause more “pinching” at the shoulder joint.  If you’re not a swimmer, however, you can actually still have swimmer’s shoulder!

Swimmers shoulder is a common term for all of the shoulder aches and pains that occur in swimmers, but one of the most common causes of this pain is shoulder impingement.  This is when the person raises their arm only to get that pinch or catch in their shoulder.  Shoulder impingement typically shows up during everyday activities such as when doing an overhead press in the gym, reaching into the cabinet at home or trying to lift your quickly growing child up in the air.  The catch or pinch that you feel is the impact of your tendons or fluid sacs (bursae) getting pinched or caught on the roof of your shoulder.  This can make reaching, sleeping, throwing a ball, and even driving more difficult.

A quick self-test to see if  you might have impingement is to position your arm to your side with your palm facing forward and then raise your shoulder out to the side and then all the way up until reaching the ceiling (like making a snow angle).  If you have pain at the middle point of the motion, then it’s time to take action.

If this is all too familiar to you, there are some simple actions you can take to get on the right track.

  1. Try a little ice – I know this is all too common of a solution, but if your shoulder is causing steady pain, there is likely some lingering inflammation that a little cold therapy can help. Sometimes in our world of advanced technology and an abundance of medication options, it is the most simple solutions that are often overlooked.  You can create your own, or pick up a cold pack from your local sports store.
  1. Do some exercises – Strengthening the smaller muscles around the shoulder (ie. The rotator cuff) is important because these muscles help hold the ball of the shoulder in place when you raise your shoulder. Here are a couple favorites:

Shoulder external rotation – Begin standing upright with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and a towel roll tucked under your arm, holding a resistance band that is anchored out to your opposite side. Rotate your arm out to your side, pulling against the resistance, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Shoulder protraction - Begin lying on your back with your arms raised straight upward, holding a dumbbell in each hand.  Keep your elbows straight and punch your arms up toward the ceiling, raising your shoulders off the ground.

  1. Add some stretches - You can only move as far as your muscles and joints allow.  Stretching some of the tight tissues will help reduce some of the pinching sensation you feel at your shoulder. Try these to get started.

Pect stretch – Begin in a standing upright position in the center of a doorway. With your elbow straight, place your hand on the side of the doorway at roughly a 60 degree angle from your side, then take a small step forward and slightly rotate your body until your feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder. Hold this position.

Sleeper stretch - Begin by lying on your side with your bottom arm bent upward at a 90 degree angle. With your other arm, apply a gentle downward pressure until you feel a stretch in your shoulder.

These are just a few to get started.  Keep working on theses and look to start seeing changes within a couple of weeks.  If you are not noticing changes or your progress comes to a halt, it is likely time for a comprehensive physical therapy assessment.

Four Reasons Your Ankle Hurts and How to Fix It

You are most likely reading this because you have ankle and foot pain now, you have had it in the past, or you know someone who does.  Efforts to try to cope with ankle pain, from walking boots, to ankle braces, ace wraps, and crutches have been used by many yet it seems that even after that, many of us still deal with it.  There is nothing like classic ankle pain that shortens your stride and slows your pace.  An estimated 11% of people will have ankle pain at some point in life, but if you are like me, I can appreciate things that limit any unnecessary discomfort.  Here are some reasons your ankle might hurt (and how to fix it):


1 You’ve Sprained it

I know what you’re thinking, “Of course it hurts if I’ve sprained my ankle.”  Well, this is not just for those who have just recently sprained their ankles. If you sprain your ankle today, you are more likely to treat it with ice and compression and elevation to get rid of the pain.  Unfortunately, once the initial pain is gone, we lose that reminder that our ankle isn’t as strong and stable as it was prior to the sprain.  This instability, or lack of control and balance at the ankle can lead to increased irritation and even impingement (or pinching) of structures around the joint thus causing the pain (and swelling) to return.

How to Fix It:  Start doing single limb stance exercises on the previously affected ankle.  For example, try to stand on one leg (once the pain has reduced) and work on balancing on that leg.  If this is easy, swing the other leg back and forth at varying speeds to challenge the balance of the stance leg.  Exercises like this help build endurance in the smaller muscles that help to


2 Your Shoes are Hurting You

I wouldn’t dare to bring up the issue of wearing high heel shoes to the ladies reading this article.  I’m sure you’ve heard stories of how wearing high heels over long periods of time can cause foot and ankle problems from fractures, arthritis, hammer toes, ingrown toenails, and other problems.  Instead of bringing that up, let’s address shoes in general.  The best thing to keep in mind is that a good shoe should feel good when you wear it.  If you are wearing shoes that are too tight, too loose, or don’t have enough support, you just might be setting yourself up for foot and ankle pain.

How to Fix It: Remember, that although once you are an adult, you might stop growing in height but that doesn’t mean your feet are not changing shape.  Go to a good shoe store and have your feet measured to see what size you truly need.  Perhaps you need a narrow or a wide shoe.  Be sure to find that out and get the shoe that fits you best.  It’s not the price that makes a shoe good, but rather, the fit that makes it good for you.

3 Your Arch Support is Weak

There is a long tendon that goes under your foot that supports the arch.  It comes from a muscle in the back of your leg called the posterior tibialis.  When this muscle weakens over time, the dysfunction can cause your foot to flatten more. Over time this can cause pain to move to the outside of your foot and ankle.

How to Fix It:  Wearing shoes that support your arch is very important to help lift some of the pressure off of one part of your foot.  Exercise to strengthen the posterior tibialis is helpful for long term improvement as well.  One of the best exercises is to sit in a chair and resist turning and curling your foot inward using a resistance band while keeping your foot flat on the floor.  It helps to strengthen the tibialis muscle that supports the arch.

4 Your Achilles Tendon

The Achilles tendon can become irritated by tight shoes, strained, or overused.  If It’s been a while since you’ve ran or played basketball and you decided to jump right back in at 5 miles or 4 pick up basketball games, it’s likely that you know what this is all about.  An irritated Achilles tendon can cause cramping at your leg muscles and even pain at your foot and ankle.  Plantar fasciitis is a common complaint of pain at the foot and ankle after overuse.

How to Fix It:  Progress back into exercises at a slower, reasonable pace if you have not done the activities in a while. Jumping and repeated hopping activities are important to pace.  Also, before you take that first step in the morning, stretch your smaller foot muscles by using your hand to stretch all of your toes backwards repeatedly for 20-30 seconds each time.  Do this first thing in the morning and you’ll find that first step is not so bad.

These are only a few of the common reasons for ankle pain.  Give these solutions a try but whatever you do, if you have pain that doesn’t go away, don’t ignore it. Speak to your physician or your physical therapist right away.

6 Reasons to Start Running Today

Someone once told me the only way they would run was if a dog was chasing them.  Ironically after more than nine 5K races and two half marathons, they have become a recreational runner.  They started with just walking and then slowly adding short periods of jogging into their walk.  Over some time, they began to enjoy the benefits of running.  You have often seen individuals running in the community seemingly so graceful and with ease.  Somewhere deep down inside, you wish you could do that, but if you’re like many people, it seems almost impossible.

You can do it anywhere.

Unlike lifting weights or basketball or skill related activities, no equipment is needed to take a jog (or even a brisk walk).  Running is an activity that is always accessible.  That means you can start anytime and anyplace with just a regular walking routine.  Over time, you can add short bouts of jogging until the short bouts become longer. The more you do this, the better you will become.  The great thing about this is you can practice anytime and anyplace you choose.

It reduces your blood pressure.

No reasons to fret when you see your physician and they bring the blood pressure cuff out.  You can gain control of your blood pressure with a regular running routine. The top number of your blood pressure (systolic) is typically reduced by 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm HG) for those who get regular exercise.  Better yet, regular aerobic exercise can prevent rises in your blood pressure as you get older.  Tired of those blood pressure medications?  Why not have a conversation with your physician to work together towards running those pills away?

It reduces stress.

There are chemicals in the body that are called stress hormones (ex. adrenaline, cortisol), but there are also some that are mood elevators or “feel good” hormones (ex endorphins).  A good run gives that moment of escape, the mental relaxation and the release of endorphins to help reduce your stress.  Very often, the stress relief that you need is not only in finishing the last part of that project or task you are working on, but in taking a break from it, going for that run, and then coming back to it.

It gives you more energy.

The same hormones that reduce your stress also give you more energy.  As you gain the benefits of better sleep from running, you will wake up with more vigor and more focus.  Regular running has multiplying effects.  Every time you use energy to do it, you gain more energy back than you used to do it.  If you feel like you are tired all of the time, why not giving running a try.

You can meet new people.

Runners of all levels often create communities.  This is a great opportunity to meet someone new with an already established common interest.  Companies such as Fleet Feet often have training programs to help people learn to run in small groups.  Even signing up to walk or jog during a local 5K event brings a great opportunity to experience the fun of meeting new people in a pressure free setting.

You live longer and healthier.

The National Institute of Health did a research study that shows that even those who start running at middle age, can reduce future disability and live longer, healthier lives by running.  Running is a great investment in your health.  Whether you start young or old, your body can adapt to the positive changes of running so that you get better and better at it.  There is nothing like maintaining your mobility that makes you feel free as you age.

So give it a try! Start out with a brief walking program that will progress over time to get you on track to be a regular runner.  Of course, it is always advisable to consult your physician or physical therapist when starting a new program.


6 Reasons it Hurts When You Exercise

It’s a new year and many of us have made the commitment to get healthy by getting in shape and exercising more.  Perhaps you’ve tried this before and it didn’t go so well.  We all have our reasons for falling short of our goal in the past but there is one reason that is all too common… It hurts when you exercise!  There are many different reasons you might feel pain when you exercise.  Here are a few common reasons that it hurts when you exercise.

  1. You don’t have enough motion.

Flexibility is an important part of exercise.  It’s often times skipped because most of us see either aerobic exercise or resistance training as the most important parts of exercise.  However, with many of us working in jobs where we are sitting much of the day, our hip muscles are often tight, and our necks and back and shoulders are often stiff.  Try some basic stretches first thing in the morning or prior to going to bed. It will not only help you maintain your flexibility but it will help you sleep better as well.  A good yoga class never hurts.  Some of the top athletes in America make this a common practice

  1. You forgot to warm up

A good warm up has many benefits.  It helps to gradually increase your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.  There is nothing more discouraging than doing the first exercise or two and feeling like you are already out of breath.  A good warm can help your body ease into the activity.  Your muscles appreciate the extra blood flow as well.  As you warm up, the extra blood flow to your muscles is like the first dip of a dry sponge into a bucket of water.  It’s just more useful and pliable when it’s wet.  Likewise, your muscles are easier to move when there is sufficient blood flow.

  1. You did too much too fast

If you are doing resistance training, a good guideline is to increase your resistance no more than 5 lbs for upper body exercises and 10 lbs for lower body exercises from week to week.  For aerobic exercise (especially for jogging) aim to only increase your time or distance by 10% per week.  As you get more comfortable, you can adjust how you see fit.

  1. You don’t know how

There is no shame in not knowing how to exercise.  The only shame is not asking for help. Even if you don’t have a personal trainer, group fitness can be a good source of training when learning how to exercise.  Youtube videos and websites (from credible sources) can be helpful as well.  Don’t be shy asking for an orientation to the equipment in the gym.

  1. It’s normal

During exercise sometimes the muscles will feel full and even burn a little.  This is what is called the pump and burn effect.  As your body repeats muscle contraction, hydrogen ions can get trapped in the muscle creating a burning sensation (sometimes an itching sensation) in the muscle.  This usually goes away once the exercise is stopped.  Don’t worry, this is normal.  The more you exercise, the less you will feel this.

  1. Something else is wrong

The American Council on Science and Health estimates 50 million (20%) of Americans are in pain.  Never ignore the symptoms of pain.  It’s one thing to cover up the pain but it’s better to know how to fix the problem.  Pain is the “check engine” light for your body.  If you are having constant pain, consult with your physician or physical therapist before exercise.