Thanksgiving has passed and that means time for decorating! The tree needs to be trimmed, the lights hung, and don’t forget about those stockings! Does holiday decorating have your shoulder hurting? All of this repetitive  overhead motion can lead to an overuse injury of the shoulder known as impingement.  Factors that can contribute to this type of injury include: the strength of your shoulder, shoulder blade muscles, and the amount of overhead work to be done. Luckily, with some quick tips you can be back to 100% in time for Christmas! Don’t let holiday decorating cause your shoulder to hurt anymore!

Let’s take a look at the bone and muscles in your shoulder:


The shoulder is composed of several muscles; however, the muscle commonly affected by impingement is known as the supraspinatus.  As part of the rotator cuff (rotary cup, in layman’s terms), the supraspinatus aids in gliding the top part of the arm down within the joint in order to avoid it contacting the bony cover above (a.k.a. the acromion) as you raise your arm . As you can see from the picture above, performing overhead motion repetitively with a weakened rotator cuff and/or improper form can lead to the tendon rubbing against the bony acromion above.

Initially, when you hurt your shoulder or if you’re really flared up, ice can be your best friend. It will help in reducing inflammation in order to allow for greater, pain-free movement. Icing 10-20 minutes per day (up to 2-3 times if needed) can aid in the healing process. Also, avoiding the repetitive motion until pain-free range of motion returns is key. In other words, if the movement hurts you, don’t do it!

However, there is hope to help you get your shoulder back in shape! Several exercises can aid in recovery. Strengthening the rotator cuff can help your shoulder return to normal function. When your rotator cuff is strong (think of it as a natural stabilization brace of the body), your upper arm is able to glide under the roof of the acromion, resulting in pain-free overhead motion and no impinging of the supraspinatus. Strengthening the shoulder blade  (scapula) muscles (trapezius, serratus anterior, rhomboids) provides a stable foundation for raising your arm overhead. The shoulder blade is responsible for 1/3 of the work of raising the arm into the overhead position. By working the shoulder blade, rotator cuff, and deltoid muscles, one can quickly return to pain-free performance of overhead motions.  Below are a list of excellent exercises that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine to prevent your shoulder from hurting during holiday decorating:

The following exercises should be performed three times per week.


Have elbows bent to side. Pull band by pinching shoulder blades together. Hold for 3 seconds.
Perform 15-20 reps;  2-3 sets every other day.

Straight Arm Pull-Down

Have elbows straight out in front of body. Pull band down to side of thighs by squeezing your shoulder blades down. Hold for 3 seconds.
Perform 15-20 reps;  2-3 sets.

Rotator Cuff: External Rotation

With elbow bent at side (towel roll under armpit for comfort), rotate arm away from your stomach until perpendicular with your body. Hold for 3 seconds.
Perform 8-12 reps; 2-3 sets.

Rotator Cuff: Internal Rotation

With elbow bent at side (towel roll under armpit for comfort), rotate arm towards your stomach. Hold for 3 seconds.
Perform 8-12 reps; 2-3 sets.

Deltoid: Flexion

front raises
Raise arm up to your chest with palm facing towards your body. Hold 3 seconds. Return to thigh.
Perform 8-12 reps; 2-3 sets.

*Alternative: perform standing straight up with both arms at the same time.

Prevention is  Key

Incorporating rotator cuff and shoulder blade exercises into your weekly routine can be extremely beneficial, as those tiny muscles can greatly aid in our daily reaching/lifting mechanics. We don’t notice injury until the pain has appeared.  To ensure this doesn’t occur in the future, or even happen in the first place, be sure to continue these exercises throughout the Christmas season and New Year!