Volleyball Shoulder Injury Prevention

Use the following tips to help prevent volleyball shoulder injury. 

Chronic shoulder pain is nothing new to overhead athletes

Volleyball is a sport that requires repetitive overhead movements (spiking, blocking, and serving).

When strength training for volleyball, too much overhead action (barbell military press, etc.) could bring on big problems.

It’s not so much that these exercises are bad for volleyball and you shouldn't do them.

The problem is the amount of time already spent with arms above shoulders.

Overuse is the enemy of the overhead athlete

Volleyball shoulder issues can range from something you just live with and work around to debilitating and career ending. This isn’t something you want to mess around with.

If you currently have shoulder pain, go get it checked out. If you haven't experienced it to this point, pay close attention to the following.

Volleyball Shoulder Injury

Improve Volleyball Shoulder Strength and Spike Harder

So how does one get to the point of being in so much pain they need professional help?

There can be many causes of shoulder pain. However, many are preventable and I'm going to discuss those here.

Poor Posture

Sitting is a necessary evil for many of us.

Many people have jobs where they sit at a desk all day long or spend all day driving.

Over time, prolonged sitting leads to muscle adaptations.

Some muscles become short and tight while others become lengthened and weak.

Typical problems due to poor posture include tight muscles include pecs (chest muscles) and levator (scapulae muscles).

Rhomboids, Serratus Anterior, and Deep Muscles of the Neck

Weak muscles include rhomboids (muscles that retract and rotate the scapula), serratus anterior (muscles attached to the upper ribs), and deep cervical flexors (deep muscles in the neck).

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Volleyball Shoulder Injury Prevention Tips

Volume of pressing exercises is greater than pulling

What these muscle adaptations do is alter scapular mechanics and movement at other shoulder joint complexes.

This causes volleyball shoulder problems because this reinforces the anterior dominance of the pecs in relation to the scapular stabilizers of the upper back. This contributes to posture and shoulder girdle problems.

A lack of stability through the trunk and hips

More and more research is coming forth looking at the relationship between poor trunk and hip stability and shoulder and elbow injury.

Many researchers believe an indicator of shoulder pain is single leg balance (side opposite the painful shoulder). The shoulder will only be as stable as the rest of the body.

There are just certain weight training exercises that should be avoided by overhead athletes.

  • Heavy shrugs

  • Upright rows

  • Flies and pec dec for the chest

  • Front and lateral deltoid raises

Now that you know some of the causes of volleyball shoulder injury and what not to do, lets talk about what strategies to use to maintain healthy shoulders.

Increase thoracic spine extension and rotation

Thoracic spine extension mobilizations

Thoracic spine extension mobilizations can be performed lying over a foam roller. Start at the top of the shoulder blades and work down to just below the inferior angles about an inch at a time. Take 2 to 3 deep breaths as you relax back over the roll at each level.

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

Foam Rolling the Back

The Massage Roller I Recommend

Side Lying Rotation Extension

This exercise will improve thoracic spine extension and rotation. This will also improve dynamic flexibility of the pectorals.

Get on the floor in a right side lying position with the left hip and knee flexed to 90 degrees and the right leg straight.

Rest the left knee on a medicine ball or foam roller. Rotate your torso and head to the left.

Begin the exercise by taking your right hand and pushing actively upward, along with bracing your abs. With the left arm, reach upward and outward to rotate the thoracic spine.

Hold for a two count, relax, and then return to the starting position.

Make sure to reach upward and outward at a 45 degree angle and simultaneously push upward with the 'off' hand. Keep the abdominals tight throughout.

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power
Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

Quadruped Thoracic Rotation Extension

The purpose of this exercise is to improve thoracic spine extension and rotation.

Assume a position with hands and knees on the floor with the left hand behind the head. Gently brace the abdominals to limit lumbar spine motion.

Rotate your torso by moving your left elbow to your right knee. Immediately change direction to rotate and extend the trunk; the head and elbow should be pointing upward.

Make sure to drive the range of motion from the trunk and scapula, rather than leading with the elbow.

Continue to progress in a range of motion and speed based on your comfort level for the desired number of repetitions.

For those with shoulder injuries, place your palm on your chest and perform the exercise with an exaggerated motion of the shoulder girdle.

Remember to keep the stomach tight throughout. Drive the range of motion from the trunk and scapula.

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power
Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

Activate under-active and lengthened muscle groups

Target muscles in this case would be the lower traps, rhomboids, and serratus anterior.

Y, T, W, L's

Y's, T's, W's, and L's are great for strengthening the scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff musculature simultaneously.

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

Be sure to lock the scapulae into retraction and depression before lifting and go light.

It is easy for the upper traps to start taking over, especially once fatigued.

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power
Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

The Stability Ball I Recommend

Push Up Plus

Push-ups with a plus are great for activating the serratus.

The difference between a "plus" and a regular push up is as you return to the top position, really emphasize pushing AWAY from the floor. Hold this position for a moment, and then continue for the desired number of repetitions.

Make sure the movement comes at the scapulae, versus allowing the thoracic spine to go into excessive flexion.

Exaggerate the pushing away motion; this is what allows the scapulae to protract.

Adjust training volume front to back

At a minimum, training volume should be 1:1. This means for every set of pushing movements you should have a set of pulling movements. For example, for every set of bench presses you should perform a set of rows. For every set of shoulder presses you should do a set of pull ups. And so on. You can superset the exercises or do them on separate days. It doesn't matter as long as it balances out in the end.

Many strength coaches are now advocating kicking it up to a 1:2 ratio because they have seen fewer volleyball shoulder injuries using this strategy.

Improve Trunk Stability

Perform prone and lateral pillar bridges to engage the trunk and scapular muscles simultaneously. Do these in place of crunches during your core work. Yes, I said replace crunches.

The problem with crunches is they increase thoracic kyphosis, pulling the scapulae into a more protracted and elevated position. This puts undo stress on the spine. All things we are trying to prevent.

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

Improve Hip Stability

Single leg squats and deadlifts will force greater hip stabilization versus the traditional squat and deadlift.

I'm not saying you should replace the latter but I would definitely perform single leg versions of these exercises.

You can’t go wrong with exercises that challenge the core, strengthening everything from the ground up. 

Volleyball shoulder injury prevention and strength for hitting power

Volleyball Shoulder Injury Prevention Summary

Every volleyball strength training program should have techniques for preventing volleyball shoulder injury.

While prevention takes some time and effort, it is always easier and less painful than the rehabilitation. Don't let your shoulders get in the way of your development of strength and power for volleyball.

› Volleyball Shoulder Injury Prevention