By: Dr. Beth Templin
As you age, your body may experience some predictable changes. One of those changes is in your shoulders. Many people begin to experience stiffness and pain in their shoulders. This starts to affect their ability to perform every day activities like reaching overhead, washing their hair, fastening a bra or putting on a coat.
Though it may be common with age, developing shoulder issues is not a normal or inevitable part of the aging process. Most often, these issues are caused by weakness and lack of flexibility from several years of declining use of the shoulders. Fortunately, there are activities you can perform to prevent these issues from developing or worsening.
The shoulder is a complex joint that allows you to move through many angles so you can reach the things you need. It is made up of 3 bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula), and the collar bone (clavicle). It is one of the most unstable joints in the body and relies heavily on ligaments and muscles to stay in proper alignment, which means it's very easy to alter its position.
When the shoulder is not in optimal alignment, it causes extra stress on the bones in the shoulder and in the muscles surrounding the shoulder. You can sustain minor injuries or micro-traumas to the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones. When this happens, certain movements like reaching overhead will cause those injuries. Over time, the damage becomes bigger and more painful.
Another factor that really plays an important role in our shoulder health is our overall posture and alignment. With age, the tendency is to develop a forward head posture and rounded shoulders. This places extra stress on the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.
Let's take a closer look at the most common shoulder issues we see in aging adults:
Rotator Cuff Tear: Your rotator cuff is made up of 4 very small muscles. The goal of these muscles is to keep the upper arm in good alignment with the smooth surface of the shoulder blade. Tears in these muscles are more common with age, getting as high as 80% in those 80 years and older.
This is due to extra stress placed on these tiny muscles when the shoulder is not in good alignment. Also, as the muscles get weaker, they cannot perform their job properly.
Frozen Shoulder: Frozen shoulders occur when the capsule surrounding your shoulder joint becomes stiff and inflexible. This usually follows a period of not moving your shoulder regularly, like after a shoulder surgery or after a stroke.
Shoulder Arthritis: Similar to other forms of arthritis, this is caused by wearing down of the cartilage on the surface of the bones.
The best thing you can do to keep healthy shoulders is exercise. Listen to your body and start slowly. If you're already having aches and pains, call us to set up an assessment to find out how Physical Therapy can help!
Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ maximize their independence and fitness, so they can continue to enjoy a full and active life.