Exercises for Injury Prevention / Recovery: Shoulder and Low Back


10 Exercises for Shoulder and Low Back Injury Prevention / Recovery

By Steve Taylor, Athletic Trainer and On-Site Human Performance Specialist at DC Fire and EMS

In April 2018, I switched from working with professional athletes in the Minnesota Twins Organization to treating and rehabbing tactical athletes. Since then, I have worked with both Police and Firefighters. This article will talk about my experiences working with tactical athletes and what treatments and recovery tools I use to help decrease pain and discomfort.

The top three orthopedic issues both firefighters and police officers deal with are shoulder, knee, and back pain. When you divide out the populations separately, the number one injury that plagues police officers are back injuries, and the number one injury that plagues firefighters is shoulder injuries.

Today, the first part of the discussion will focus on how to decrease pain in each of these three joints, and a follow-up article in the next coming months will explore recovery techniques used by recruits going through both Fire & Police Academies.


The shoulder is my favorite joint to talk about. The two anatomical parts of the shoulder that create the most pain and discomfort for tactical athletes is both the labrum and rotator cuff. Think of the labrum as a rubber band that wraps around the head of the humerus that creates lubrication and suction for static stability. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles that wrap around the humerus and create dynamic stability during range of motion.

When the shoulder is having weakness or trouble getting through a full range of motion the problem is the rotator cuff. For example, not having the strength to pick up a jug of milk or not being able to open a kitchen cabinet are symptoms of rotator cuff issues. Typically, this is caused by an over activity of your latissimus dorsi, deltoid, and trapezius muscles, “AKA” the big muscles. When this occurs, the “small muscles,” or the muscles that create dynamic stability, start weakening. Below are the 5 best ways to treat or increase rotator cuff recovery.

5 Best Exercises for Rotator Cuff Recovery

1. Trapezius Smash

Take the barbell and place the handle of the bar on your upper trapezius. Pull down on the bar while rotating head to opposite side. Nod head up and down to release the tension in the upper trapezius

2. Rhomboid/T-spine Release
Place lacrosse ball between the spine and scapula. Lie on your back and push lacrosse ball into the shoulder. Start with your hand at your side and bring hand forward over your head.

3. Around the World with a PVC Pipe
Grab a PVC pipe and place hands out wide bring PVC pipe over your head and touch the PVC pipe to your back. Keep elbows straight continue doing this for 30 seconds

4. Sleeper Stretch

Lie on your side keeping your shoulder at a 90 degree angle. Take the shoulder and internally rotate towards the table. Hold for 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch through your shoulder joint

5. Side Lying External Rotation
Lay on your side and start with your opposite shoulder close to your torso in a 90/90 degree angle. Place a bolster in between the shoulder joint to increase joint space. Then externally rotate shoulder and hold for 3 seconds at the top and then internally rotate back down




Lower Back

Tactical athletes deal with low back pain due to muscle imbalances around the pelvis. These muscle imbalances affect body posture, which causes low back pain with everyday movement patterns. This is called the lower cross syndrome, which affects millions of people every day, not just tactical athletes. The Lower Cross Syndrome involves weakened glutes and transverse abdominals, and a tightening of the erector spine and hip flexors. This can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle or by overtraining certain muscle groups. To decrease these symptoms of low back pain the top five exercises I use daily are listed below.


5 Best Exercises for Low Back Pain


1. Quad Smash

Place Kettlebell handle down towards your quad. Start at the top of your hip and work your way down to the knee. Knead out any muscles that are tight and to increase pressure extend and flex the knee while performing pressure
over the muscle

2. Table Stretch

Lay flat on your stomach with one leg off of the table and on the floor. Keep the other hip flat and pressed to the table while stretching the quad. Do not arch the hips or keep chest off the table

3. Couch Stretch

Get into a lunge position with the knee on the ground and the opposite foot in a 90/90 degree angle. The quad you are stretching take the foot and latch the toes up onto a bench or “couch”. Keep the back upright and while keeping the heel as close as the glutes as possible hinge the hip in a forward direction

4. Butt Walks

Place a stretch band around your back and along both of your feet. Keep feet about 2-4 inches apart while the band is wrapped around the outside of both feet. Walk forward, backward, and side-to-side using your core to balance and move through the resistance of the bands


5. Glute Bridges with knee extension
Start by lying on your back. Keep legs at and angle with feet both touching the table. Go up into a bridge position and then extend one knee to full extension. Use your glutes to control the core and try not to let your hips drop towards the table. Hold this for 5 seconds and then relax and re-set

quad smash
untitled lunge
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I hope these exercises can be helpful when dealing with shoulder and low back pain, and that  has been a good resource for anyone dealing with these current symptoms or discomfort.