Shoulder Injuries and The Australian Tennis Open

Every year for 3 weeks in January, Kirsty McNab, Sports Physiotherapist, owner of Physiologix, upstairs at The Gap Health and Racquet Club, is buried  under Rod Laver Stadium at The Australian Tennis Open, working with the players, based in their main changing room.

One of the most common issues treated is the shoulder.  There are a multitude of things that can be wrong with this joint and an even greater range of reasons why they went wrong. Treating these elite athletes successfully requires not just a diagnosis of what exactly is injured, but also why the injury has occurred. 

The shoulder joint is actually not that stable: the bones cant lock together too much or else you wouldn't be able to move your arm in the massive range of different directions that we do. As a result the shoulder relies on an incredibly complex design and co-ordination of muscles. Stick anything in the wrong position and eventually it will break - the shoulder is no different.

Firstly the shoulder blade must be considered. You can look in the mirror and see if your sore shoulder sits higher or lower than the other. The chances are this is resulting in a break down of this muscle co-ordination.  The joint is then trying to work out of position and something is breaking down. If your shoulders are always slumped forward this can also predispose to a myriad of injuries.

Step one with any shoulder injury is to learn how to correct the position of your shoulder blade. At Physiologix, we use ultrasound imaging to show you your muscles and how to switch on the right ones and how to switch off the wrong ones.....what seems like a complex task, becomes easy.

The next stage is to figure out exactly what has to happen at the shoulder joint. As most of us spend our lives doing tasks in front of us (and tennis players are no different) the muscles at the front of the shoulder tend to get too strong and pull the ball of the shoulder forward in the socket. Exercises that strengthen the back of the shoulder are essential to balance this and are  part of many rehab programs. The problem is most people don't put enough time into doing these exercises regularly and enough. Strength takes weeks not “a day here and there” so make a commitment to your rehab. Not any old exercise for the back of the shoulder will do. Every different injury needs a slightly different pattern of exercises depending on which muscles you want or don't want to work. Your physio will teach you these, the right number of reps you need to do and when and how to progress the exercises as required.

At the Open, the players will do their band exercises right before they play. This ensure they have switched on all the right muscles they need to control the joint before they play. Nadal was doing a whole range of band work for 5mins before he hit on court.  You are no different: do your band exercises before you do the tasks that upset your shoulders, really focusing on keeping the shoulder in the correct position all the time.

But its not all hard work on your behalf. Your physio will work with massage techniques to release the muscles you have been overusing, that are tight and that pull the shoulder out of alignment. They will work to mobilise the joint, stretching out tight ligaments so that the ball can actually sit in the right position in the joint....otherwise all your amazing exercises will be ineffective. Sometimes the physio will need to work on your neck and back as this may be contributing, and much of what they will do is work with you on changing many of the little daily things you do multiple times using the shoulder wrong.

Physiologix has a special interest in treating shoulder injuries. Come in to see our highly experienced physios for some help. Call (07) 3511 1112 or email us from the contact us page on this webpage.