Let’s face it. Injuries are a part of staying fit and healthy. Besides your diet, you need to exercise if you expect to look and/or feel your best. That means moving around (besides just from the couch to the refrigerator) and, generally, lifting things that way more than 12 ounces by volume. I think you know to what I’m referring. You will probably experience some sort of back injury or shoulder injury at some point.
Stuff happens and when it does you need to ease yourself back into your fitness routine. Trying to go full blast immediately is the surest way to re-injure yourself or injure something else that is trying to compensate for the muscles not yet ready for Prime Time. Having the right exercise for rehabbing your particular injury is essential.
Our back and shoulder muscles play important roles for our bodies. The back is essentially part of your “core” muscles (although some of you might disagree). It helps hold our posture upright and is essential for lifting weight from below our core to core height and above that. The shoulder provides the widest range of motion of any joint in the body. It plays an important part in lifting weight with your arms and any repetitive arm motion like pitching a baseball.
What Is A Shoulder or Back Injury
The type of shoulder injury exercises you will/can do is dependent on the type of injury. Shoulder injuries fall on a spectrum:
- Spasms are the least damaging shoulder injury. This is basically a sudden tightening of the shoulder muscles.
- Strains are where a muscle or tendon in the shoulder gets stretched or torn. They can range from a minor strain to a severe strain.
- Sprains are where a shoulder ligament is stretched or torn. A common type of shoulder sprain is referred to as a “dislocated shoulder”. Sprains can also range from mild to severe.
- A particularly nasty shoulder injury is a labrum tear. This refers to a tear in the cartilage that lines the shoulder socket. The top of the upper arm bone is held in place by that cartilage.
Back injuries are categorized in similar ways to shoulder injuries:
- Like shoulder injuries, you can get a back strain or sprain when you overstretch a muscle or tear a ligament.
- Herniated discs are where the disc itself is not causing the pain. Instead, the pain is caused by the material leaking out of the disc. This results in irritation or pinching of a nearby nerve which is the actual source of the pain.
- Fractured vertebrae are where the bones collapse upon themselves (compression fracture) or where pieces of the bone have exploded out into the surrounding tissue (burst fracture).
How to Recognize a Back or Shoulder Injury
This isn’t meant to sound flippant, but if you have pain in your back or your shoulder, it’s probably injured. Feeling pain is our body’s way of letting us know something isn’t quite right. Pain is a regular fixture in exercise. There is even that old saying “No pain, no gain”. But, that’s “good pain”. What this section is focusing on is the other, “more painful” pain.
Back injuries usually manifest themselves through pain when bending or twisting. The movies are replete with scenes where characters “throw out their backs” and are unable to stand up straight. While situations like that can happen, most back injuries are not quite so “dramatic”. Usually, people can bend or straighten. It’s just how much they can tolerate the pain when doing so since it can be severe.
Most exercise-related back injuries are caused by improper posture or poor technique when lifting weights. Of course, you’re probably not going to fracture vertebrae lifting weights. There are any number of exercise-related situations where they could occur (mountain bike riding accidents, skateboarding mishaps, etc.).
Similarly, shoulder injuries are revealed when pain is present. Very often, some parts of the shoulder’s range-of-motion is pain-free. It’s when the arms get lifted past a certain height where discomfort begins. This type of pain is usually the result of over-intensive weightlifting or repetitive motion.
Weightlifting is best completed using about 70% of an individual’s maximum effort. Short stints exerting maximums in order to measure progress are fine. But, repeated sets at maximum effort can lead to injury. Shoulder injuries caused by repetitive motion are most often associated with things like baseball, softball, and racket sports like tennis, racquetball, and squash.
Top 5 Back Injury Exercises
If you experience back pain that lasts for several days and doesn’t respond to common remedies like pain relievers, hot and cold presses, etc. you should probably see your physician. If your doctor gives you permission to exercise, consider these exercises to help relieve your pain and strengthen your back muscles.
- Swimming. Swimming is a great aerobic exercise anytime. When you have back pain, the water helps support your weight and keeps the pressure off your back. You should avoid doing any twisting strokes that can aggravate your pain.
- Pelvic Tilts. To complete a pelvic tilt, with knees bent, lie on a flat surface with your feet flat on the floor. Contract your stomach muscles. This has the effect of pressing your back into the floor and you will feel your pelvis and hips rocking back. Breathing in and out slowly, you should hold your position for 10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 8-12 times.
- Raising a Knee to Your Chest. While “regular” sit ups should be avoided, this exercise can help you eliminate your back pain and get you back to your fitness routine. While on the floor and pressing your back to it, keep one foot flat on the floor and raise your other knee to your chest. Hold that position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat the exercise 2-4 times per leg.
- Wall Sits. Avoiding “regular” sit ups, the wall sit is actually one of the great back injury exercises. Place yourself 10-12 inches from a flat wall and then slowly lean back into the wall. You should get your back as flat against the wall as possible. Slide down slowly until your knees are slightly bent pressing your back into the wall the entire time. Hold that position for 10-15 seconds and then slide slowly back up the wall. Repeat the exercise 8-12 times for best results.
- Bird Dogs. This exercise begins on all fours. Tighten your stomach muscles then lift one of your legs behind you. You should extend your leg as far as possible. Hold that position for 5-10 seconds and then switch legs. You should repeat this exercise 10-15 times for each leg. Lengthening the time you hold each lift can improve results. As an added challenge, lift and extend the arm opposite the leg being extended during each repetition. For any form of Bird Dog, you should maintain contraction in your lower back muscles. Do not raise your limbs higher than that you can do while maintaining your lower back contraction.
Top 5 Shoulder Injury Exercises
The shoulder is one of the most complex and consequential joints in the body. When you have a shoulder injury, it can be severely limiting in terms of the use of the affected arm. Because of its complexity, you should consult a physician before beginning a shoulder exercise regimen after injury.
- Range-of-Motion. This is perhaps the simplest suite of exercises and provides an important baseline to help you decide if more complex and difficult exercises should even be considered. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Keep your arm on the mat or just off of it and extend your arm out to your side. Extend your arm until it is straight out from your shoulder and return it to your side. While lying on your back with your arms at your side, lift the arm straight up in the air. When your arm reaches 90°, hold for 10 seconds. If possible and it can be done with minimal pain, from the 90° position, raise your arm above your head and then back to 90° for a second hold. Then return your arm to your side. Repeat the process 8-10 times.
- Shoulder Reaches. This exercise complements range-of-motion efforts. It should be accomplished with minimal weights to begin (1-2 kg) and increasing weight as the shoulder regains strength. While lying flat on the floor with your arms extended at your shoulders, place the weight in one hand and, keeping your arms straight, raise the weighted arm up and across your body reaching as far cross as you are able. Then, return the arm to the starting position. Be sure to breathe in and out slowly during the exercise. Complete 8-10 reaches. As strength is returned, increase repetitions and/or add weight.
- Lateral Raises. This exercise gets you up off the floor to a more “standard” position. Place both arms at your side. Take one arm and raise it out to your side until it and the floor are parallel. Moving slowly, let your arm return to your side. Repeat the exercise 3-5 times with each arm. This exercise has proven to be extremely beneficial after rotator cuff injuries. You can add 1-2 kg weights as your arms and shoulders gain strength.
- Shoulder Clocks. Begin by lying on your side without the injury with your head resting on that arm. Place your injured arm down your side with your hand flat. Make sure that your palm faces down. With a straight arm, move it in an arc (with your thumb in the lead) until it’s above your head. Now, rotate your hand counterclockwise. Your palm will now be face up and you’re ready to move it back to your side. This time you should lead with your pinky. After completing 20 reps you can switch sides and repeat the exercise.
- External Rotations. Again begin by lying on your side without your injury. Bend the elbow of your arm that is injured until it’s resting at your side with your forearm on your abdomen. While keeping your elbow at your side, ball your hand into a fist and raise it toward the ceiling. Lower your hand slowly and repeat the exercise 10-15 times. As the arm gets stronger, you can add a small lead weight.
Preventing Shoulder and Back Injuries
Preventing injuries to your shoulders and back comes down to four simple rules:
- Make Sure You Stretch. Be sure you are properly stretched and warmed up before doing any sort of exercise. This prepares your muscles for the stress you will put on them.
- Don’t Over Do It. Many shoulder and back injuries occur when people try to do more than they are able at that particular time. There is no reason to try to lift the whole stack of weights if you are not yet ready to do so. Consider limiting your tennis matches to best-of-three sets instead of best-of-five sets. Let somebody else pitch the second game of the double-header after you already pitched the first.
- Use Proper Technique. Many back and shoulder injuries are caused when people use poor technique. Most often this poor technique is associated with weightlifting. You should make sure you understand and use the proper techniques when lifting weights. Failure to do so can cause a significant injury. Proper techniques for other exercises or sports should also be incorporated into your fitness plan.
- Be Smart. By that I mean “don’t be stupid”. There’s no need to try to ride your mountain bike down an uneven path with multiple dangers when you could walk it. Don’t try to gut out a shoulder press using all the possible weight if that amount is way above your usual maximum. If you’ve never learned proper pole vault technique, you probably shouldn’t attempt one.
You Can Recover
Injuries happen. There’s nothing that you can do about that besides stretching, not overdoing it, using proper technique, and being smart. Just know that, if you do injure your back or shoulders, there are back injury exercises and shoulder injury exercises that can return you to form. Back and shoulder injuries are common weightlifting injuries you can and should avoid.
When it’s all said and done, you can recover from back and shoulder injuries and return to your regular health and fitness routine. It just takes patience and knowing the proper exercises. Hopefully, this article provides you some useful information.