Unexpected Ways People Hurt Their Shoulder

Written by Molly Camacho | Physical Therapist; Athletic Trainer – Certified Athletic Trainer 2000, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist 2003, Orthopedic Clinical Specialist 2012

As a physical therapist, I’ve treated many people for shoulder pain over the years. One of the most common ways people injure their shoulder might surprise you and it’s something we all do. In this article you will find tips to prevent this common injury from happening to you!

It happened. You were in your car doing something you regularly do with no problem. Then today when you reached you felt it. A twang in your shoulder. A sharp pain. It’s not going away. Now what?

This is the scenario I hear people repeat regularly in my PT office. They reached for something while in the car. Maybe it was a bag they lifted from the passenger seat when getting out of the car. Or they reached from the front seat to the back seat. Parents frequently do this movement to pass things to their kids seated in the back. Either movement can place stress on the shoulder joint that can result in an injury. Physical therapy can typically treat these injuries but today let’s talk about prevention. How can we keep the injury from happening in the first place? Below are tips to reduce your risk of injuring your shoulder while reaching in the car.

Keep your shoulders as strong and flexible as you can. Talk to a personal trainer if you need help with this! Here are two easy stretches you can do to improve your flexibility for reaching into the back seat.

(a) Sit on a chair with no back. Reach both arms behind you until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 5 seconds and return arms to lap. Repeat 5 times. Perform 3 times a week.

(b) From a seated position, cross your arms on your shoulders and rotate your upper body until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 5 seconds. Perform 3 times a week.


Avoid reaching in the car. Ok, sometimes this isn’t possibly but avoid reaching in the car when you can. Especially if you have a prior shoulder injury or know that your shoulders aren’t very flexible or very strong. Instead of grabbing the bag in the passenger seat as you exit your car, get out and walk around to grab the item from that side of the car.

Injuries can be prevented if we are cognizant of our movements, however, injuries do happen. If you happen to have pain of any kind, our Performance Physical Therapists are here to help. With 4 convenient locations (Coralville, Kalona, Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha) and complementary pain screenings, scheduling an appointment has never been easier.

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