Wipe off those winter blues and dust off those golf clubs, spring is here! As an experienced Occupational Therapist that has been specializing in shoulder injuries over the past 14 years, getting your shoulder ready for golf season tends to be a repeat occurrence in the clinic.
If you are not a snowbird, it is right about the end of winter that you start thinking about golf. You roll your shoulder a little bit and start swinging that fake club in your hand back and forth envisioning that ball lifting completely out of that sandpit and landing perfectly on that green.
But wait! What is that? Stiffness in the shoulder? Pain with movements? This can’t be possible. Golf season is here!
Don’t panic. There are a few things that you can try to get that shoulder moving a little more fluidly and with less pain. So, before you call the doctor and seek medical advice from your best friend, try a few of these safe techniques first.
- Heat that shoulder. There is a lot of research that surrounds the benefits of using heat. Heat helps improve flexibility. It improves your circulation, which in turn, improves your healing time. Heat can also decrease inflammation. Don’t worry about the source. It can be moist heat, a heating pad, or a rice pack. Feel free to sit in a hot tub or take a nice hot shower. Any way you can get heat on that shoulder is great. It is recommended to keep the heat on for at least 8 minutes to make it effective.
- Stretch (safely). Walking your fingers up a wall is a great way to stretch out your shoulder. Stand directly in front of a wall. With a slight bend in the elbow, put your fingers on the wall and start climbing up. This is called an active-assisted exercise. That means that you are still actively moving your shoulder, but your fingers are assisting, so the movement is not so stressful to the shoulder. I always recommend walking your fingers up the shower wall because your shoulder tends to be much more relaxed because that nice hot water is running on it. Here is the important part. Only walk your fingers up to a COMFORTABLE stretch. You never want to push past pain. When you get to that comfortable stretch, hold that stretch for at least 30 seconds. Repeat as frequently as you can. If you are not being aggressive with your stretch, you can stretch as frequently as you want. Remember to breathe when you are stretching!
- If you are experiencing pain, it is very important to seek medical advice from your primary care doctor and/or your pharmacist to take the medicine that will work best for you. Anti-inflammatory medications may be an option.
- Respect pain. Pain is one of your body’s best defenses to let you know something is wrong. We must listen to our body. DO NOT PUSH THROUGH PAIN. Most of the time, that will make things worse.
- Let your joint rest. Do not overuse it. If you want your shoulder to feel better, you are going to have to give up your “heavy” household chores for a few days (or weeks). You cannot expect your shoulder to feel better if you make it shovel mulch for 2 hours. With that being said, I am also not telling you to put it into a homemade sling. Not moving it can also create its own list of problems. You must find a happy middle. Use it for daily tasks such as getting dressed or making dinner, but do not overuse it or “baby” it too much either. Make sense?
- FIX YOUR POSTURE. This is probably one of the most important things you can do for yourself. There is a significant amount of evidence-based research that indicates those who focus on good posture will recover better and faster than those who do not. Sit up straight. Get out of your “lazy chairs” and start sitting in your dining room chair or your ergonomically designed desk chair. No leaning. Think “90-90-90” in relation to your knees, hips and elbows when sitting. Your knees should be in a 90* angle, your hips should be in a 90* angle and if you are at a desk, your elbows should be (yep, you guessed it) at a 90* angle. Push your shoulders back. Think “military stance.” Shoulders back. Chest forward. Keep that head and neck aligned with your spine. Not forward or back. I understand this may be a challenge for a lot of you. Just take the first step to good posture. Try to sit straight for 2 minutes at a time and then give yourself a rest break. And then do it again. And again, and again, and again until slouching is uncommon. Just trust me, you will not regret it.
Give these 6 steps a chance before you call your doctor or favorite therapist. If they are not successful, or for some reason the pain increases, then immediately stop them and contact your doctor. But if they do help, do not stop them. Give it time. Soft tissue usually takes 6-8 weeks to fully heal. So, start making that shoulder feel better so you can Swing into Spring!
Amy Livengood, OTR/L, CEAS II
Hello! I am Amy Livengood and I have been a practicing Occupational Therapist since 2004. I graduated from Keuka College in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State with honors. Following graduation, I began practicing in the pediatric setting. I originally worked with school-aged children but have also ventured into early intervention services, working with children birth - 3 years old. In June 2006, I had the opportunity to join the team at Chautauqua Physical & Occupational Therapy, focusing my profession in a privately-owned outpatient orthopedic clinic in Jamestown, New York. I took the dive and have been doing outpatient hand therapy for almost 14 years now. Since then I have become a certified ergonomics assessment specialist and, most recently, specialized in lymphedema. I am grateful to work for an amazing practice that encourages me to grow and thrive in a profession that I love and am truly passionate about. I have been blessed to be married to my amazing husband, Jonathan for 14 years. He has given me my greatest accomplishments, my children, my daughter Khloe Grace 12 years old and my son, Kale James 10 years old.