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Use It Or Lose It – The Shoulder Edition

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Did you know, an “older adult” with a painful (symptomatic) rotator cuff on one shoulder has a 50% chance of having a similar tear they don’t know about (asymptomatic) on the other shoulder as well?

Shoulder pain or discomfort is so common as people age. And guess what, we are all aging!

BUT, is age really the biggest indicator of a painful shoulder? Well, we know from research that a majority of people’s problems with aging isn’t actually based on their age, but on their health and fitness levels.

We’ve all heard someone say, “I have a torn rotator cuff from wear and tear over the years”. But is that really the case?

As it turns out, without some sort of recent trauma, most likely not (insert sarcastic shocked face here).

This is what we call here at The Movement Schopp the “use it or lose it” principle.

It’s kind of like learning a new language. If you speak this new language daily, you become very fluent in it. But, if you stop speaking the language, over time you will lose the ability to speak it completely.

Well, the same thing happens with the shoulder complex. If we spend time strengthening up the rotator cuff and the rest of the supporting muscles of the shoulder, you will have a very functional, pain free shoulder.

This is why I am not a fan of having people get an MRI on the shoulder just because there is pain (especially without recent trauma).

Let me explain.

If you don’t frequently lift weights (or anything for that matter) over your head, you will start to loose your strength and range of motion in that position. This isn’t a problem until you go to lift something over your head or behind your back, and all of a sudden your muscles have to work in a position they haven’t been in in a long time. Then BOOM, you get shoulder pain.

It’s kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Now, we do know that there is a NATURAL thinning of the rotator cuff muscles as people age (typically people over the age of 65). But as I said earlier, is years on this earth really the main cause of this problem?

A “natural” thinning of the rotator cuff is caused by one or more of the following:

  1. A lack of strength in the rotator cuff and other supporting muscles of the shoulder.
  2. Poor blood supply to the anterior (front) shoulder muscles and nerves.
  3. Fatty deposits developing in the muscles of the rotator cuff due to lack of use of the muscles.

So let’s go over these a bit…

  1. A lack of strength – Well we talked about this already. Get those muscles stronger. Just like anything else in the body, they are adaptable to the stresses placed on them. This is the same principle as getting any other muscle stronger in your body, it doesn’t change just because there is a tear or pain. It’s just about finding the good motions that don’t aggravate the symptoms and work on those first!
  2. Poor blood supply to the muscles and nerves – Well, muscles grow and move from the nutrients found in our blood. And nerves are VERY sensitive to a lack of nutrients and oxygen and they’ll let you know fast (via pain)! Things like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol poor heart and lung function, and a few other key health markers can make it difficult for blood to bring nutrients and oxygen to these structures leading to weakness and pain!
  3. Fatty deposits in the muscles – If there are fatty deposits in the muscles, they lose their force potential, AKA their ability to be used efficiently.

So before you jump to surgeries or injections such as cortisone (which has actually been shown to further break down muscle tears and healthy joints), think about these 3 things we just talked about.

Can you improve the strength of your shoulder?

Is there room to improve your health and lifestyle to decrease your pain by improving your nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress?

Would you benefit from seeing a Doctor of Physical Therapy as a guide to help improve any of these area’s you have been struggling with?

Don’t let your image (an MRI or x-ray) define you, because it’s probably a poor reflection of what is causing your pain in the first place!

& most importantly…


If you are looking for somewhere to start on your own when dealing with your shoulder issue, you can check out our eBook, “Eliminate Shoulder Pain” here.

If you have questions or would like to schedule a free 15 minute call with us, click here to fill out our contact form and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

Talk soon.

Dr. William Schopp PT, DPT, CF-L1, Cert-CMFA

a man standing in front of a rack of dumbs.

William Schopp, PT, DPT, CF-L1, TPI, TRS-C

Owner and Founder of The Movement Schopp

"We help everyday athletes like YOU bounce back from injuries and get back to performing at their highest levels!"