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Can Inactivity Cause Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain is an extremely common complaint, affecting people of all ages. While injuries are a frequent cause, many people develop shoulder pain from everyday wear and tear or poor posture. A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity may also contribute to shoulder problems for some individuals. Here’s an overview of how inactivity can lead to shoulder discomfort and ways to prevent and treat shoulder pain.

How Inactivity Affects the Shoulders

The shoulder is comprised of a complex system of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that work together to provide stability and mobility. When these structures do not receive adequate use, they can become stiff, weak, or imbalanced. Lack of exercise deprives the shoulder muscles of the repetitive motion that helps keep them flexible and strong. Similarly, tendons and ligaments that are not “loaded” regularly through movement become less resilient.

In particular, the rotator cuff muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint suffer from disuse. The rotator cuff tendons can develop abnormal impingement when weakened, resulting in irritation and inflammation in the shoulder. Poor posture from sitting for prolonged periods can also place increased stress on the rotator cuff. Slouching forward rolls the shoulders inward, straining and overstretching the muscles and connective tissues.

Without regular joint motion, shoulder cartilage can begin to break down and shoulders may lose their normal lubrication. This creates greater friction within the joint spaces and can lead to painful arthritis over time. The lack of blood circulation from inactivity may also deprive shoulder tissues of necessary nutrients for maintenance and repair.

Risk Factors for Inactivity-Related Shoulder Pain

Certain individuals appear more vulnerable to shoulder problems resulting from an inactive lifestyle. People with occupations involving repetitive shoulder motions, awkward postures, or lifting are at heightened risk. The daily wear and tear to their shoulder joints and soft tissues makes adequate recovery time even more crucial. Those who are very deconditioned and suddenly ramp up shoulder activity are also likely to overload their vulnerable tissues.

Age is another key factor, as the structures that support the shoulders naturally deteriorate with time. Older adults who fail to exercise and build shoulder strength may experience more symptoms. Lastly, excess weight adds more force through the shoulders with everyday motions, so maintaining a healthy body weight through activity helps take pressure off the joints.

Preventing Inactivity-Related Shoulder Pain

Making time for regular physical activity focused on shoulder strength and motion is the best way to prevent shoulder problems. Experts recommend exercises that target the rotator cuff such as shoulder external rotations, internal rotations, flexion, and extension. Light resistance training with bands, dumbbells or machines also helps build balanced shoulder strength.

It’s important to maintain flexibility in the chest, shoulder blades and upper back through stretching. Activities like swimming, tennis or cross-body exercise provide excellent active range of motion for the shoulders. Practicing good posture by keeping the shoulders back and down throughout the day prevents overuse.

Treating and Recovering from Inactivity-Related Shoulder Pain

The key treatment principles for shoulder pain caused by inactivity focus on gentle reconditioning of the muscular and joint structures. Stretching tight muscles and connective tissue helps reestablish normal flexibility and mechanics. Start with simple range-of-motion exercises like shoulder circles and arm swings within a pain-free zone.

As shoulder mobility improves, light muscle strengthening can begin under the guidance of a physical therapist or athletic trainer. They may recommend specific exercises to target weakened areas. Low-impact activities like walking, cycling or water exercise boost blood flow and provide active recovery for the shoulders. Manual techniques like massage or trigger point therapy can also help relax tense muscles.

Some cases of shoulder impairment may require medications, steroid injections or surgery. But in most instances of inactivity-related pain, a graduated exercise program and lifestyle changes can successfully treat the root causes. Committing to regular shoulder joint motion and staying active is crucial for restoring function and preventing recurrence. With some patience through the recovery process, the shoulders can return to pain-free mobility.