Shoulder the load

I guess I knew I was in trouble when I found myself on the emergency room gurney with the EKG sensors stuck to my chest.

After a hard day of planing in the shop a few years ago, my left shoulder was feeling a little uncomfortable. Through the night it went from uncomfortable to painful to downright unbearable.  My wife suggested that perhaps we pay a visit to the hospital.  So, she helped me pack my shoulder in ice and off we went.

When I got there, the triage nurse noted my situation – 38 year old male with a family history of heart disease presenting with pain in his left shoulder… well, they had to rule out a heart attack.  And, that’s what they did and later discovered that my great pain was due to bursitis caused by repetitive stress from the day of woodworking.  I was given pain killers, a shot  of cortisone and a prescription to see a physical therapist.

That’s where I learned a lot about one of the most vulnerable joints in the body.  The shoulder is an amazing structure.  Unlike a hip – a true ball in socket joint – the shoulder is kind of like a ball on a golf tee joint.  The cup of the shoulder is very shallow and relies on a very complex system of muscles, tendons and ligaments to hold everything together.  All of these parts are cushioned by little structures called bursa sacs.  This arrangement gives you tremendous flexibility, but makes the shoulder prone to all kinds of problems not seen in other joints.

To help build strength and flexibility in my shoulders, the physical therapist gave me a few exercises that have helped me avoid another visit to the hospital.

Now, I’m no doctor.  I don’t play one on TV. So, before you even consider doing anything, please consult with a doctor just to make sure you don’t do something terribly wrong and end up coming after me with an attorney.  Seriously…

However, I do own a Richard Simmons-esque sweatband, so I can look totally boss while showing my awesome skills.

To begin, you have to stretch the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the shoulder before you can do anything.  I do this quick exercise every time I head into the shop for a session.

First, you have to find something to hold on to that won’t move on you.  For me, I grab the handle on my bench’s vise.  The first thing I do is gently lean away from the bench until I feel a slight stretch in my shoulder and hold this for a count of ten.  The next thing I do is turn my body away from the bench while holding the handle counting to ten.  This stretches the front part of the joint.  I then turn my body toward the bench, which moves the stretch to the back part of the joint and hold this for a count of ten. I do all three moves a few times on each shoulder, which really feels good and gets me loose for a day in the shop.

The next two exercises help strengthen my shoulders and are very easy to do.

The first one involves a common bungee cord.  I hold it in my hands with my thumbs pointed out and my arms extended in front of me.  Keep them about shoulder’s width.  Then, I slowly stretch the band by moving both arms out, making the cord taut.  Hold that for ten seconds, then bring your arms back to the starting position.  I do this five times, but have since moved up to ten.

The next exercise involves a hand plane.  If you are doing this for the first time, you might want to start with a No. 4.  You can move up to a No. 7 jointer when you get a little more advanced.  Hold the plane at your side by the tote, then extend your arm until it is parallel to the floor.  Hold it there for ten seconds and then let the plane come back down to your side.  Again, do this five times for each arm to start, but move up from there.

No, I’m not trying to get you to build a beach body, but by doing some simple exercises, you may not have to make that trip I had to a few years ago to the emergency room.

2 thoughts on “Shoulder the load”

  1. Nice post, Tom. It a useful tip that I’ve never though of before. Plus the sweatband makes it classic.

  2. The musle I use the most is my brain. When my body gets a little tired in a spot or two, I quit working. 🙂
    Just joking. But really, I have more problems with my legs getting sore from standing on the cement floor for long peroids of time than anything.
    Thanks for the tips though. Never considered that wood working could be the type of thing that might cause musle and joint problems like running or jumping.


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