Altered Muscle Recruitment in Patients with Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is a common musculoskeletal problem and one of the top reasons patients seek care from their primary care physician.   There are many sources of shoulder pain including impingement and rotator cuff tendonitis or tears, but they all have one impairment in common altered muscle recruitment.  When pain is introduced into the body the nervous system's ability to contract and coordinate the activity of the surrounding muscles is altered.  These changes lead to compensatory movements, more pain, and loss of function.   In addition to treating a patient's pain Physical Therapists utilize exercises to restore normal muscle function to the affected areas.

A recent article in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery compared the muscle activation levels between patients with impingement and their pain free peers (Michener et al. 2016).  All participants were asked to perform a weighted arm lifting task as the researchers collected muscle activation data.  The patients with impingement demonstrated an altered movement pattern while performing the task overworking their neck muscles in the process.  In comparison, the healthy controls were able to perform the task using the correct shoulder blade muscles without overcompensation from their necks.

This study highlights the importance of correcting these muscle imbalances and coordination deficits to reduce the risk of a patient's pain returning.  To learn more about how to reduce your pain and improve your shoulder function contact your local Physical Therapist.