I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. A sharp popping sensation in my back and then an odd, almost warm tingling feeling down my left leg. I knew it wasn’t good, and I should have known better.
This was my first week at an infantry brigade I had been assigned to in 2011. I was the only physical therapist assigned to a group of 3,500 soldiers. My job was to treat all injuries, teach injury prevention classes, and help with human performance optimization. I was also attached to an infantry brigade so that meant a lot of physical training and ruck marching.
On my fourth day assigned to this group, I went on a Thursday morning ruck march. For those of you that don’t know, ruck marching is basically walking around while wearing a 50-pound backpack. This morning we had gone on an 8-mile ruck march. When I finished, I dropped my rucksack (i.e heavy ass backpack) and stood around talking with the other soldiers. As I was leaving, I bent over to pick up my rucksack and that’s when I felt the pop.
I immediately knew something was wrong, but the last thing I wanted to do was get hurt in front of all my soldiers. I was the guy assigned to this group to make sure people didn’t get hurt and there I was in excruciating back pain trying to act like I was fine. I managed to make it to my car before collapsing into my seat. I drove straight to the troop medical clinic to see a fellow physical therapist friend of mine. There was no unringing this bell… the damage was already done.
Over the next six months, I did everything to help fix this back injury I had given myself. Fatigue from the ruck march followed by picking something heavy up, like an idiot, was a recipe for a pretty serious disc injury. I had what’s called an L4-L5 disc prolapse. This caused me to have a lot of numbness and weakness in the back of my left leg.
With a combination of dry needling, hip joint mobilizations, and time, my pain resolved in about six months. It took me roughly another six months before I could get back into deadlifting heavy. 12 months of rehab/recovery from picking up a rucksack wrong. As much as this wasn’t fun, I’m glad it happened to me, and here’s why.
I learned a lot about why I had this back injury in the first place and was able to correct those issues. This injury lead me down the path of better understanding complex movements. I became obsessed with treating my own back and developing protocols to help other people with their back injury. Lastly, I can relate to anyone I see with a back injury on a much deeper level than someone who’s never hurt their back.
I also got to see first hand that disc injuries do heal. Even when I was in school, the thought process was that a disc injury wouldn’t heal. I have an MRI from one month after the injury and three years after the injury. The MRI from one month post injury shows a significant disc prolapse that’s pressing on a nerve. The MRI from three years post injury looks completely normal. The body heals on the inside just as it does when you get a cut on your skin. It fills in, heals, and you have a scar as a reminder of the thing that happened.
Dealing with a disc injury can be extremely frustrating. Here’s my advice to you if you’re currently dealing with one from my own experience and from all of the back injuries I’ve seen:
I hope this helps and I hope you realize that you can heal. Your body is incredible and often times it just needs time and the right approach to do so.
If you’re in the Atlanta area and are currently dealing with a back injury, we need to talk. We’ve helped thousands of people in Atlanta get back to a pain-free, active life, and we can help you as well.
Click the “Get Started” button below, leave us your information and one of our team members will reach out to find out if you’re an ideal fit for what we do.
Thanks so much for reading,
So, let’s talk about the shoulder:
It is a very dynamic joint with little surface area between the humeral head and the glenoid fossa. The analogy we often use is a golf ball on a golf tee. There’s a reason why you hear more about shoulder dislocations than hip.
We have numerous muscle attachments and ligaments that surround the joint itself. These can be broken down into active (muscles/tendons) and passive stabilizers (ligaments). When we are going through different movements at the shoulder (whether that’s an overhead press, push up, clean, etc.), if we do not have the requisite range of motion, coordination or strength, then our passive stabilizers take on a lot of that stress. As I’ve said before, every single tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament, bone, etc.) in our body has a certain capacity and threshold. Stress is how we build those thresholds up. Stress is also how we break those down. When those thresholds are surpassed significantly or repeatedly, pain and injuries start to pop up. The dosage is the difference in having the poison or the antidote (- quote from someone smarter than me).
Now, how can we create more buffer room or bandwidth to withstand these stressors?
Smart and well thought-out training. Sure.
But, what about creating more freedom and control at the shoulder joint? Then, those tissues are less prone to getting overstressed and everyone is doing their jobs.
Today, our focus will be on the overhead archetype – which is an expression of shoulder flexion and external rotation. This can be anything related to pressing, reaching overhead, hanging, or throwing overhead.
I see people in the clinic every day that have pain with these movements and when we break these positions and joints down, we tend to see a limitation in one or both flexion and external rotation. Next, we’ll go through a test that you can utilize to see how your overhead position checks out.
Common faults we see related to this are:
Try to avoid these mistakes and see where your true baseline overhead position is. After the techniques provided below, come back to this test and re-test the movement. Can you go further? How does the quality of getting there feel?
Next, we’ll look at some strategies to improve the mobility aspect of the shoulder joint.
Shoulder Overhead Opener:
When discussing the shoulder joint, I would be remiss not to mention the thoracic spine. The shoulder blade and thoracic spine/ribcage are very intimately related which directly impacts shoulder mechanics and position. Next, we’ll go through some techniques to address the thoracic spine.
Half-Kneeling Wall T-Spine Rotation with Lift Off:
Lastly, we will cover my favorite component in the performance process which is the strength and control of the shoulder joint for the overhead position.
Supine Eccentric Shoulder Flexion – Dowel or Single Arm with Plate:
Dowel Shoulder Flexion PAILS/RAILS:
Chaos Overhead Band Carry:
Now, you may be thinking, "These are great exercises, but how do I implement them?" Try them as movement prep prior to an overhead workout, accessory work on upper body days or even on recovery days. Do you have to do all of them? Nope. Find the ones that you feel had the best impact on you via the test-retest on the Wall Test and start implementing them in consistently. An active approach tends to work better in the long term compared to the passive approaches and exercises. You’ll be surprised how quickly your overhead position will improve and your overall shoulder health.
If you’re dealing with an injury, reach out with any questions. We design and implement rehab and performance programs to help our athletes, whether you’re someone who doesn’t know where to start or has had an unsuccessful rehab experience. It is our goal for the people we work with to return to their sport or activity performing better than they did before.
Dr. Ravi Patel, PT, DPT, CSCS
Tennis is a sport that demands an incredible amount of strength, stability, and performance out of one of the most unstable joints in the human body… the shoulder. Not only do you need to drive your shoulder through some truly incredible velocities with something like a serve, but you need to be able to control that power through finely tuned movements in multiple planes of motion with an almost endless list of types of swings.
The demands on the shoulder are pervasive in tennis and because of this we have successfully treated endless amount of shoulder related injuries from the tennis players we see at Athletes’ Potential. However, through all these injuries that we’ve worked with, we have started noticing some trends in common strength deficiencies and biomechanical limitations that, when addressed, can have serious impacts on reducing injury risk and improving performance.
Trend #1: Inadequate Shoulder External Rotation Range of Motion
Arguably the most violent swing in tennis is the serve. To generate the amount of torque required for this swing, you need to have an appropriate amount of external rotation at your shoulders.
The video below goes over a quick and easy drill to assess your shoulder external rotation. Essentially you should be able to lay on the ground and get the back of your wrist to the ground while keeping your low back pinned to the floor.
Some common mistakes to avoid when doing this assessment include:
If you can’t bring your wrist to the ground, or you have pain when you do or feel like you really have to fight to get there, then try some of my favorite drills to improve shoulder external range of motion.
Drill #1: Front Rack Opener
Drill #2: Lat Stretch
Drill #3: Upper Back Mobilization
Trend #2: Upper Back Strength
In order to have a strong, effective swing you need to have a strong back. This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but let me explain. Your body is innately intelligent and it’s not going to let you produce more force than it feels it can control. Therefore, to have a better swing, you need to have a strong back to be able to eccentrically control your arm as you go through the swinging motion.
Some of my absolute favorite exercises to make sure you have a strong upper back are listed below.
Exercise #1: Deadlifts
Exercise #2: Pendlay Row
Exercise #3: W, Y, Negative
Trend #3: Lack of Rotational Core Strength
Your power in your swing comes from having a strong core. If you don’t have a strong core, then you have no foundation to deliver a strong swing, and if you are trying to have a strong swing without a solid foundation, well, you’re begging for an injury. Check out my favorite exercise to improve rotational core strength.
Exercise #1: Med Ball Rotational Throws
Exercise #2: Deadbug Pallof Press
Exercise #3: Landmine Twists
If you’re a tennis player struggling with shoulder pain (and yes, even elbow pain) or are looking to improve your performance, these drills are a great place to start. They are the three main problem areas that we find ourselves addressing with the tennis athletes who come to us for help. However, If you’re dealing with an injury and want more guidance and help, reach out with any questions. We design and implement rehab and performance programs to help our athletes, whether you’re someone who doesn’t know where to start or has had an unsuccessful rehab experience. It is our goal for the people we work with to return to their sport or activity performing better than they did before.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.