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7 tips for preventing shoulder injuries in upper body sports
July 24, 2020 | by Lauren Watson, Physiotherapist

Imagine a crane on soft ground instead of a solid foundation. As the crane lifts a load, what would happen?

The load would be swinging around and it would be difficult to deposit the load at an exact location. Our shoulders are like cranes – we need a stable foundation and balance of the working parts in order to transfer load.

We transfer load in upper body sports, for example, when we throw a ball, serve in tennis or volleyball, paddle, shoot a basketball or swim. These activities demand high loads and forces overhead, which can put the shoulder at high risk for injury.

Most common shoulder problems come from repeating the same movement over and over again and from too much arm movement overhead.

From a mechanical point of view, shoulder pain often occurs when:

  • There is impaired range of motion in the shoulder joint – often decreased internal rotation

  • There is a deficit in rotator cuff strength – often external rotators muscles are weaker

  • There is inadequate shoulder blade (scapula) position and strength
  • The mid back (area between the shoulder blades) is stiff
  • The low back (lumbar) core is not stable
  • There is decreased hip range of motion and strength imbalances

Tips for preventing shoulder injuries in upper body sports

How can you work to prevent those shoulder injuries from occurring? Here are some recommendations.

1) Warm up with light exercise before playing your sport

For example, spin on a stationary bike or walk for 10-15 minutes, gradually building some intensity. This will increase your heart rate and body temperature as well as lubricate your joints. This will get your body ready for movement and the demands of your sport.

2) Pay attention to bad posture and correct it!

For those slumped over computers or mobile devices, make postural corrections frequently, throughout the day, to improve your posture. Staying in these prolonged poor postures leads to tightened muscles and restricted range of motion around the shoulder, neck and mid back. When we then do a sport that demands the opposite of these postures, our body can’t always adapt without tissue breaking down somewhere in the shoulder/upper quadrant region.

3) Gradually increase your tolerance/endurance to your sport

As your season begins for dragonboating, baseball, tennis, etc., start slowly especially if you haven’t done the sport since the previous season. Be careful not to increase the volume or level of play suddenly. For example, if you haven’t practised much, don’t play or participate in a multi-day tournament with two or more games/events per day.

4) Increase shoulder girdle (shoulder joint and scapula) strength, stability

Shoulder Physiotherapy Fortius Sport and Health Burnaby

Have a proper assessment done by a physiotherapist or health care specialist to determine what the demands of your sport are and where you may be lacking in range of motion or strength around the shoulder girdle or any other areas in your body. Specific exercises will be prescribed for you that address any areas of imbalance. We will teach you and have you practise sport-specific movement patterns with proper techniques.

5) Past history of shoulder injury? Have a preventative program designed specifically for you

If you have injured your shoulder from your sport in the past, you must have an individual preventative program that you do. Above and beyond your team training and your own strength and conditioning program, you should be doing some shoulder-specific exercises that have been designed to address your areas of weakness and imbalances.

6) Diversify your workouts

If you are a swimmer or tennis player, alternate some of your workouts with hiking, running or biking to offload stress on your shoulder. This will ensure you still maintain your fitness level.

7) If you do experience pain, pay attention to pain signals

Pain is the only way your body can tell you something isn’t right – listen to your body’s pain message. REST your shoulder. Seek help, especially if your pain persists longer than 3-5 days. Staying on top of pain or discomfort in the early stages will help prevent painful injuries later in the season.


Physiotherapists are body specialists. When it comes to overhead repetitive sports, we can evaluate your body mechanics, identify areas of imbalance and train you how to effectively transfer load to ensure a safe, injury free season.

Book an appointment with a sport physiotherapist today by calling 604.292.2500 or visit the Sport Physiotherapy page on our website to learn more.


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