Battling MMA Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain, whether it’s transient or chronic, is one of the most common conditions we see at our clinic among the athletes who train and compete in mixed martial arts and other combat sports. The most common shoulder disorders we come across are rotator cuff impingement syndromes, tendinitis, and rotator cuff tears.

If you have pain in the front of your shoulder from overhead activities or when reaching across your body, you may be suffering from a rotator cuff impingement syndrome. As the name suggests, there are structures in the shoulder that get “impinged” or pinched beneath the acromion as the arm elevates or reaches overhead. A common cause is from repetitive use or overtraining. If muscles in the shoulder girdle and rotator cuff are not balanced, it is common to develop an impingement syndrome. When the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade and keep it pressed against the ribcage are shortened or hypertonic, normal range of motion about the shoulder joint becomes limited. So in essence, every time you raise your arm above your head, or throw a cross or hook, your rotator cuff muscles can become trapped, irritated, and eventually torn.

Shoulder impingement syndromes quite often lead to tendinitis or tendinosis of the rotator cuff. Almost 90% of the time in our practice we see some degree of tendinitis of the supraspinatus muscle when there is a shoulder impingement syndrome. Over time, continuous impingement of the rotator cuff can lead to microtears or full-thickness tears when acute trauma is involved.

What’s the solution? Listen to your body. Chances are, if you keep doing the same motion over and over and you continue to have pain or discomfort, it won’t magically disappear. Find a competent sports physician, chiropractor, or physical therapist who can assess your shoulder and put you on a program to stretch what’s tight, strengthen what’s weak, and mobilize the joints that aren’t moving properly. We also have good success using ART (Active Release Techniques) along with traditional physical therapy modalities like ultrasound and electrical stimulation to rehabilitate shoulder injuries.

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