The use of our shoulders and elbows are important because they play a major role in maintaining our independence in activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and bathing.
I have seen many patients in your age group who sustain muscle and tendon injuries when starting to do weights for exercise, but without controlling their movements while lifting the weights.
If the motivation is to strengthen and tone the muscles of your shoulders, then there are other ways to do this with a minimal risk of injury.
Swimming, exercising on a cross-trainer or using resistance bands are methods that will strengthen and tone your upper limb muscles.
However, with your history of eczema, swimming may be problematic. I would recommend a session with a professional trainer or physiotherapist before starting exercises with light free weights.
The use of free weights without proper instruction or education is a common cause of muscle injuries.
Another factor that predisposes one to muscle and tendon injuries in the arm is inadequate stretching before strengthening exercises or sports.
Muscles consist of tiny fibres that work together to produce a contraction. This muscle contraction moves the joints of the body.
Before exercising, the muscle fibres are arranged haphazardly.
Stretching a muscle reorientates the fibres in a parallel direction. This allows the muscle fibres to contract optimally with a lower risk of injury.
Persistent shoulder pain may, however, be a symptom of a tear in the shoulder muscles (rotator cuff).
A person is usually still able to use his arm but may experience pain or weakness with overhead activities.
This problem may be noted when hanging out laundry, taking something from a high cupboard or even combing one's hair.
If there is a small tear in the muscle, this may enlarge over time if left untreated.
Large untreated muscle tears may progress to joint damage and osteoarthritis (wear and tear). This would then cause persistent pain and stiffness.
To avoid this, it would be wise to see a doctor who may arrange for some imaging of the painful joint.
If a large muscle tear is detected on a scan, then this may be repaired by keyhole or laparoscopic surgery.
DR ANDREW QUOC DUTTON,
medical director of Singapore Medical Group's Orthopaedic Group
This article was published on May 15 in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.
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