Just because you’ve gotten a bit older doesn’t mean you plan to slow down. I love that so many older adults are maintaining their active, athletic lifestyles. It’s important to recognize there are physical changes that take place as we age, however. We have less muscle mass (we’re not as strong as we once were); our tendons aren’t as elastic (we’re not quite as flexible as we once were); and we have less cartilage (our joints don’t have as much cushioning). Shoulder injuries and chronic shoulder pain are common complaints among my patients, which is why I’d like to share some things you can do to prevent shoulder injuries, as well as what you can do if you suffer from chronic shoulder pain.
Know your limits
It’s extremely important to know your body’s limitations. If you haven’t done an activity before, like CrossFit for instance, you certainly don’t want to go to your first class and go all out and walk (or limp) away with an injury. It’s important to have a qualified fitness instructor monitor any new exercise plan. You should also slowly increase your activity so your body has a chance to adapt.
Take the time to warm up (and cool down)
As we age, our joints become less flexible, which is why warming-up is even more important the older you get. If you’re about to hit the slopes for the first time of the season or play a round of golf after a long winter away from the links, than you really need to work into it slowly. Cold muscles are more prone to injury, which is why you should stretch and prepare your body for the activity. Spend 5 to 10 minutes doing jumping jacks or running/walking in place and then stretch your muscles for a few minutes afterward to warm up your muscles. And when you finish, cool down with 5 to 10 minutes of gentle stretching.
Listen to your body
If a certain activity causes you pain, pay attention and don’t expect the pain to just stop. If you have a chronic shoulder issue and you keep doing the same activity that caused the problem to begin with, that could lead to an injury that requires surgery. Instead, address the issue when the pain first starts. If someone is having shoulder pain, weakness or instability, I recommend addressing it early with anti-inflammatory pain medications, physical therapy, activity modification and rest. Another adjunctive measure is cortisone injections, which can help alleviate inflammation and pain within the shoulder and help in the recovery phase.
Implementing these preventive measures could help delay the onset of a painful or arthritic shoulder joint. They could help prevent or delay an invasive surgical procedure to fix an issue that could have otherwise possibly been prevented.
For chronic shoulder pain
In overhead or contact athletes, chronic shoulder pain could be due to shoulder instability or labrum tears. The athlete might have dislocated their shoulder and now have chronic instability. The pain could also be due to a rotator cuff tear, arthritis, or just from overuse “wear and tear.” I recommend trying rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, and maintaining shoulder motion and strength with a good physical therapist … “motion is lotion.”
If the pain persists, you should likely see an orthopedic specialist. I always focus on conservative options with my patients first. I perform a simple evaluation and exam and take X-rays to see if there is arthritis or an underlying bone issue that needs to be addressed. Depending on the issue, we’ll often try the aforementioned conservative measures. If those things don’t resolve the issue, we’ll work together to find a plan that works. We might need to do further imaging, like an MRI. Once all conservative measures are exhausted, we may need to discuss surgery. But my ultimate goal is to get you back into the beautiful Colorado outdoors and enjoying the activities you love.
Jared White, DO is a board-certified, sport medicine fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee and shoulder surgery. Dr. White studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology before completing his Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine, graduating with high honors from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his orthopedic surgery training at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine where he was chief resident, clinical instructor in orthopedics and a scientific paper award winner by the American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopaedics. Dr. White studied at the world-renowned Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center and Noyes’ Knee Research and Education Foundation where he served as a sports medicine and orthopedic surgical fellow and consultant for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cincinnati State University athletic teams. Dr. White currently practices at OrthoONE at North Suburban Medical Center in Thornton, Colo. Visit orthoonedenver.com to learn more.