What is this Rotator Cuff we hear about?

     If you talk to people who are physically active for long periods of time, you will hear mention of rotator cuff injuries. The rotator cuff is what many people commonly think of as the shoulder. It is actually 4 different muscles working together to allow full movement of the arm. The bones in the shoulder do not provide much structural support so it the the work of these muscles to provide the stability, flexibility, and mobility.

     The most common injury to the rotator cuff comes from muscle strain and swelling which happens when it’s subjected to repetitive movements. This happens to flow artists frequently as by our very nature we make repetitive movements. Either through planned rehearsal or casual spinning, the repetitive movements we enjoy learning can be not so pleasant for our bodies. With proper body awareness and preparations, we can begin to understand what can result in an injury and what we can do to prevent it.

Injury Prevention

     With all the large movements we can do with our props, it’s important to gradually build into fully working in the space instead of just rushing in. Working on spinning in smaller circles or shapes and then gradually increasing the size helps to increase flexibility and strengthen the shoulder muscles. By alternating spinning close to us and extending our arms farther away from the body this works with our body. This gradual stretching of our arms allows the body to slowly relax into spinning by warming up the muscles to more actively spin. You wouldn’t race to quickly do a split, don’t try to race to do an intense shoulder move.

     A part of spinning that’s not often talked about is form. In this case, it’s important to understand the way the different body parts interact to move effectively. The shoulders are directly supported by the torso so this means core and back strength also play a part in shoulder health. Make sure you are standing or sitting up straight when extending the arms. Slouching can cause the body to bend forward and this does not allow the shoulders to make clean rotations. Exercises to strengthen shoulders, back or core, can help improve shoulder strength and endurance. Again, it’s important to ease into new activities and pace yourself.

     Another important part of injury prevention is learning when to put the prop away. Spinning when tired and unable to fully be aware of your body can begin to spell disaster. Being tired and just trying to do ‘one more move’ can cloud your judgment and allow you to overexert yourself. It’s normal to take a while building up massive spin sessions as endurance does not come overnight. Take it easy now to allow yourself to spin tomorrow. Also those with a history of shoulder issues should be aware of their own body limits as you know your body best. If something starts to feel “not right”, take a second and listen to your body.

Taking care of an injury

     If you just did a hard practice session or exerted yourself doing a new move and something doesn’t feel quite right in your shoulder, take it easy. Don’t try to push on through because that may end up doing more harm than good. It’s also important to learn how to distinguish standard muscle fatigue with an injury. It’s pretty common to feel a bit sore after an enthusiastic spin session. This soreness often presents as a dull and incessant ache throughout the muscle groups you used. However, sharp stabbing pains occurring intermittently or only when moving in a specific way could spell something worse. Begin by trying the very common RICE Method of injury treatment.

     The standard RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method of injury treatment is effective for small shoulder injuries. The combination of ice and compression can help to reduce swelling, which as mentioned earlier can cause shoulder pain. Ice should be applied for 10-20 minutes at a time 3 or more times a day. Don’t apply ice or cold packs directly to the skin, use a cloth or something in between. When the swelling has gone down, you can use heat on the area of soreness.

     When recovering from a shoulder injury, one of the most important things you can do is take it easy. Rushing right back into practice or performing can cause significantly more damage and worsen any injury. Your body will thank you for the little extra time you spend taking care of it. If things do get worse and standard injury care does not work, it is important to consult a trained medical professional. Tears can incur in the shoulder muscles which can prove to be serious. Take time now to care for yourself so you will be able to enjoy decades more of the spinning arts.

Featured Image:     Original Image by: Jason Trbovich

                               Edited by: Jason Fields

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