4 Solutions to Maintain Strong Shoulders

A good friend of mine told me a few years ago about a surf trip he went on where he dislocated his shoulder. He was in a far-away place, a long way from immediate medical care. I remember him telling me that the weirdest thing was that to put a dislocated shoulder back “in,” that you actually pull your arm (while lying on your surfboard) down and it actually will self-retract back into place. Now, not being a medical doctor, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my friend’s statement. However, I can discuss shoulder dislocation prevention strategies as well as things to look for in case you do dislocate.

Generally, in surfing, there a few different ways to mess up your shoulders. One way is via chronic impingement when paddling, another way (and my personal favorite from experience) is by over “protracting” when duck diving, and then, probably more commonly, is the inevitable stall that you may be performing in order to sneak a glimpse of the green room.

That said, there are a few things you can do from a preventative standpoint to keep your shoulders as strong as possible. There are four of them, but generally speaking, these muscles’ primary job is to keep your humeral head (your arm bone) in it’s socket. Here’s a tip: you need to do more than just stand in one place moving your arm in one plane while holding onto a resistive band. 1) Keep your rotator cuff muscles strong. 2) Keep your mid and lower traps, serratus anterior and rhomboids strong. This is often achieved via exercises such as rows, WITYs, push-up with a plus, and isometric-type exercises. 3) Keep your lats strong and flexible. Since the Latissimus Dorsi originates in the lower part of the back and then attaches itself onto your arm bone, this is a good one to stretch and strengthen. 4) Don’t forget your trusty ol’ core muscles. A strong core can help you recover from a fall or prevent a fall where you may end up falling on an outstretched hand (FOOSH, for short).

Now, lets play devil’s advocate and say that perhaps you have sustained a shoulder dislocation. Here’s the bad news: the earlier you dislocate in life – say you’re a 15-year-old male – the odds are extremely high that you are going to re-dislocate later on in life. That said, I would reference the above exercises to maintain shoulder stability. If you do dislocate when surfing, generally, there is an anteriorly directed force applied to your humerus (arm bone) and a resulting Bankart lesion can occur. In this instance, the cartilaginous lip of tissue that helps increase surface area in your shoulder can tear. Additionally, if you are really having a good day, you can also acquire a Hill-Sachs lesion which essentially is a bone depression or sometimes fracture of your arm bone that can occur as it dislocates.

All of the above shoulder talk makes most people including myself feel a little squeamish, but the good news is that if this does happen to you, rehabbing your shoulder is a manageable, definitely common occurring experience.

Shane Carpenter