Volleyball and Chronic Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is a common problem that impacts volleyball players, particularly during the execution of overhead movements including serving, spiking, and blocking. The shoulder joint, characterized by its exceptional range of motion, is naturally more susceptible to instability compared to other joints in the body. This increased mobility allows for the versatility required in volleyball but also makes the shoulder more prone to various types of injury and discomfort.Activities that involve repetitive overhead motions like throwing, swimming, or weightlifting, and volleyball increase the likelihood of encountering shoulder pain or dysfunction. Pain can manifest in different forms, including soreness, stiffness, aching sensations, or even sharp, intense discomfort. It may occur during or after physical activity and can impact your performance, range of motion, and overall enjoyment of the sport. Shoulder injuries from overuse can progress to a point where they even impact your daily life outside of sport.The most common causes of shoulder pain in an overhead range of motion include

1. Shoulder impingement: Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons within the shoulder joint become compressed or "impinged" between the humerus (arm bone) and the bony structures of the scapula (shoulder blade). During overhead arm movements, such as lifting your arm, the space between these bones diminishes, leading to increased pressure on the tendons. This compression can cause irritation and ultimately result in impingement and inflammation.  

2. Rotator cuff injury: The rotator cuff is made up of a group of four muscles that surround and support the shoulder joint. These muscles play a crucial role in arm and scapular movement while providing stability to the shoulder. Importantly, your rotator cuff muscles are responsible for decelerating your arm after a throwing motion. Rotator cuff injuries are common and can stem from various factors, including overuse, traumatic events, or degenerative processes.

3. Arm swing mechanic: The swinging mechanic in volleyball is a complex acceleration of your Gleno-humeral (shoulder)  joint and other structures of your body. The movement of “swinging” requires cooperation from many different muscles and parts of your body. For example, it is important to use the rotation of your torso to accelerate your shoulder. Having poor swing mechanics can cause large amounts of stress on the shoulder joint itself and has the potential to lead to impingement or overuse injury. For example, if a player swings with just their shoulder instead of rotating their torso as well, they are relying on the joint itself to generate power - increasing demand on the joint and supporting muscles. Relying too heavily on the shoulder can lead to impingement due to friction, irritation, and inflammation, or rotator cuff injury due to increased demand on the rotator cuff muscles to decelerate the arm.

Addressing overhead shoulder pain requires a comprehensive and professional approach. Consulting with a healthcare professional can provide a thorough assessment and appropriate treatment plan based on your specific condition. It is important to remember that even though your injury may present similar to somebody else's, the underlying cause may be different - which will change how your healthcare professional treatment plans. Treatment strategies may include a combination of the following  

1. Rest and modification of activities to allow the shoulder to heal and recover.  

2. Rehabilitative exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint, improve stability, and enhance overall shoulder mechanics.Manual therapy techniques, such as joint mobilization or soft tissue massage, to alleviate pain, reduce muscle tension, increase joint health, and reduce inflammation.  

3. Modalities like ice or heat therapy to reduce inflammation and manage acute symptoms.Education on proper biomechanics, posture, and injury prevention techniques specific to volleyball.  

4. When conservative measures are not sufficient, surgical intervention may be considered for severe or recurrent shoulder injuries.

It is important to address shoulder pain promptly, as ignoring or neglecting it can lead to chronic issues, further functional limitations, and potential long-term consequences. By seeking appropriate medical guidance and following a comprehensive treatment plan, you can effectively manage shoulder pain, restore function, and continue to enjoy volleyball and other activities with improved shoulder health.Exercises for shoulder health and longevity.These are three exercises that we believe help with shoulder health and longevity. Keep in mind that these are for general shoulder health, and more specific exercises tailored to your injury would be given as part of a treatment plan.    

1. Shoulder CARS: This exercise is great for warm-ups as it helps to activate and prepare all the muscles in your shoulder for activity.  

2. Shoulder Deceleration: This exercise will strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and decrease the risk of overuse injury.    

3. Quadraped Banded Pulls: This exercise isolates the shoulder and improves stability.