A significant percentage of the population has “unstable” shoulders, or shoulders that have the ability to move into ranges that place one at risk for orthopedic injury. Also known by the medical community as “multi-directional instability,” loose shoulders are fairly easy to identify. If you suspect that you have an unstable shoulder, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Have I ever dislocated my shoulder? Shoulder dislocations are extremely painful and will often require a trip to the emergency room for relocation. Having one shoulder dislocation also places you at increased risk for additional dislocations. Shoulder dislocations are also often accompanied with labral tears and are a hallmark sign of instability.
2. Does placing my shoulder in certain positions make me feel nervous? Unstable shoulders produce a feeling of apprehension when placed in stretch positions, particularly when the shoulder is rotated externally. (see picture above)
3. Does my shoulder shift in the joint easily? Reports of shifting, “clunking,” and sudden movements in the head of the humerus bone are often reported by people with instability.
4. Am I generally excessively flexible in joints other than my shoulder? There is a correlation between multi-directional instability in the shoulder and laxity in other joints such as the knees, elbows, and fingers.
5.Have I been diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder? There are a few conditions that are manifested by laxity in joints, muscles, and other soft tissue structures. Marfan’s and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes are two such examples of disorders that may lead to shoulder instability.
A great many people who have unstable shoulders are able to manage daily life without any surgical intervention. A key to stabilizing the shoulder deals with training the surrounding rotator cuff muscles to keep the head of the humerus firmly in the socket. Here are a few exercise ideas that can serve to stabilize the shoulder.
As always, make sure that you are under the guidance of a doctor before beginning any exercise routine. Some people do have instability in one direction more than others, so it is quite important to identify what directions are more susceptible to movement prior to starting a program.
Exercises to Stabilize the Shoulder
1. Most unstable shoulders are loose in the anterior direction. This exercise makes the internal rotators of the shoulder work in a shortened position and comes highly recommended!
2. There is a great (and affordable) piece of exercise equipment called a “Body Blade” that provides a fun way of tiring out the rotator cuff muscles in a safe manner. In our clinic we use the body blade “CXT” model with patients and have them oscillate the body blade while their elbows are maintained securely at their sides. I am sure that there are numerous videos of body blade demonstrations online, check them out.
3. Isometric exercises are a very safe way of beginning a shoulder stabilization program!
4. Stand facing a wall at arms length. Hold a weighted ball in your hand and gently push the ball with the palm of your hand directly into the wall while keeping your elbow locked. Make small, tight circles with your hand pressing into the ball, twenty-five times clockwise then twenty-five times counter clockwise. Adjust the weight of the ball in accordance to what makes you adequately fatigued. (see photo on right)
This exercise will also work with a “cuff weight” wrapped around your wrist as an alternative to a weighted ball.
Read More About Shoulder Issues
• What Does a Shoulder Labral Tear Feel Like?
• When Can I Start Working Out After Shoulder Surgery?
• How Do I Deal With A Shoulder Dislocation?
• Is Sleeping On My Side Bad For My Shoulder?
• Why Won’t My Shoulder Rotate?
• Managing Expectations When Recovering from a Labral Repair