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Trouble Turning the Steering Wheel while Driving?

“My shoulder is killing me! I can’t even get my arm up to wash my hair!” Shoulder pain, whether it be sharp and stabbing, or dull and achy, causes a significant amount of discomfort and inability to perform everyday activities.  It can make it difficult to reach in the overhead cabinets while cooking or putting away dishes and turning the steering wheel while driving.

The shoulder is a complex region of the body made up of three joints, four muscles of the rotator cuff (a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint that keeps the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder) and over 10 other muscles that attach around the bones/joints that make up the shoulder. This means there has to be a lot of body parts in good working condition in order to have a healthy and happy shoulder.

One common shoulder issue is called impingement. This is when the muscles of the rotator cuff become subjected to repeated pinching in between the rounded head of the humerus bone and the acromion process, a bony prominence from the shoulder blade that forms a roof over top of the ball and socket joint. Initially, this pinching may only be a discomfort or may not even produce pain, but with repetition over time, the rotator cuff muscles will become inflamed.  Further repetitive pinching, or impingement of the rotator cuff can gradually lead to small or even large tears of the rotator cuff muscles preventing you further from being able to turn the steering wheel when you drive, brush or wash your hair, and tuck in  your shirt when dressingIt is therefore, important, to address these issues before it becomes difficult to perform these simple daily activities. 

The good news is that physical therapy can help.  A physical therapist can address the underlying issues contributing to your pain in order to help you be able to move and use your arm without further irritation. Shoulder pain and discomfort is a condition that, in the majority of cases, can get better but is best treated sooner rather than later.

So, why does impingement and other shoulder injuries occur? There are a few contributing factors?

  • Repetitive and/or prolonged overhead movements can place the shoulder in a position where it is more likely to be impinged, such as when swimming, hanging holiday decorations, painting tall walls or ceilings. When a movement is repeated multiple times, it’s more likely for the muscle to become strained as it is being overworked and eventually “quits” causing pain.
  • Improper sleeping position can also compromise the shoulder. Sleeping in a position that involves your arm going under the pillow or above your head can lead to impingement of the anterior shoulder joint.
  • Posture will also impact the positioning of the shoulder blade and therefore the positioning of the bony roof of the shoulder. If the bony roof hangs forward over the shoulder more than it should, any upward reaching position would be more likely to produce impingement. As we age we tend to find the easiest and most comfortable positions to sit, stand, move in rather than worrying about what the most anatomical and ergonomically correct ones are. As a result, we slouch and lean forward to text, email our bosses and coworkers about a meeting, or even play candy crush to avoid making eye contact. Whatever the case may be, we’re letting our posture suffer and this causes muscular imbalances. These imbalances cause some of our neck, chest, shoulder and upper back muscles to work very hard while others are not working as hard. This leads to muscles soreness and tightness, which in turn leads to incorrect shoulder mechanics.
  • Muscle Imbalances/Weakness. Additionally, if there is muscle weakness or imbalance around the shoulder blade they will not coordinate well with the rest of the shoulder, then you are going to end up with an unstable foundation on which the rotator cuff muscles work. This muscle weakness or incoordination can also contribute to impingement. The role of the rotator cuff muscles is to not only help move the shoulder in various directions, but also to help provide stability of the ball and socket joint. The socket part of the joint is actually fairly shallow. So as the arm is reaching upward, if the rotator cuff does not have adequate strength or control, the ball end of the arm can slip upward resulting in impingement. As we become more hunched over with our posture, we are becoming extremely weak in our posterior muscles, causing compensation and injuries elsewhere.


Shoulder injuries can wreck havoc on your everyday activities. You may not be able to throw a ball with your dog or pick up your kid.  You want to handle your shoulder pain so it no longer interrupts your daily living!

At Loudoun Sports Therapy Center, our Physical Therapists will assess what is causing your shoulder pain and discomfort and will develop an individualized plan of care specific to your needs. We can minimize your pain, help you regain your range of motion, improve your strength, correct your posture and even out any muscle imbalances.


CALL Loudoun Sports Therapy Center TODAY at 703-450-4300.


CLICK HERE to learn how to properly lift items so you don’t cause an unnecessary shoulder, back or neck injury.


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