Do you have shoulder pain?
Would you believe that your eyes may be playing a role in what you’re experiencing?
If you’ve been following us for any period of time, you know that we talk a lot about modern pain science.
One of the most critical ideas in modern pain science is that inputs coming into your brain matter in terms of the output it is creating. Kind of like your computer system. A lot of people have used that analogy before. It is completely inaccurate when it comes to the brain but it’s close enough and it’s useful to think, garbage in, garbage out. All right?
Imagine that you have shoulder pain. Right now I’m going to talk about shoulders because I’m getting a lot of questions about shoulders.
But as we discuss stuff about pain, one of the things I want you to understand is that whenever we discuss pain and the way that we deal with it, it’s about the entire body. It could be your shoulder, it could be your neck, it could be your back, your hip, your foot, it doesn’t matter because pain ultimately is a protective output that your brain produces based off the sum total of inputs it is taking in.
So how you’re seeing the world, how you’re inner ear is function, how you’re hearing the environment around you, all the signals coming in from your muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, et cetera, all of those are creating this pattern within your brain.
When your brain feels stressed out or threatened because you didn’t sleep and you’re having a hard time at work and you also sprained your ankle six months ago and it never healed correctly, all of that can equal back pain. It can equal a lot of different things.
One of the real challenges when it comes to pain is sequentially and very systematically eliminating or looking at different inputs to see how they affect you.
Now, I said this was about shoulder pain so let’s get started talking about shoulders and eyes.
Let’s imagine that I’m having problems with my right shoulder. The first thing I need you to do is test your shoulder and if you’re not having shoulder pain you can still do this just to see what it does. You can check your ranges of motion.
In general, let’s say I have shoulder pain. A lot of people when they have shoulder pain are going to have pain when they flex the shoulder or what’s called abduct the shoulder and also when they internally rotate it. Those are the most common things that you see. There can be other things, reaching behind your back, et cetera.
What I want you to do is first thing, slowly I want you to test the ranges of motion that are problematic for you. If you’re not in pain you can always go, what’s my most difficult motion?
Now, once you’ve done that we’re going to do something really super simple. All right? We’re going to do two different things with your eyes.
The first thing that I want you to do rather than looking at your arm or letting your eyes wander around as you’re moving your shoulder, I want you to choose a spot on the wall in front of you. If you need to, take a Post-it note, put a dot on it, stick it up there.
It should be basically at eye level to begin with. I want you to just focus your eyes on that dot. I’m looking at the camera lens now. I’m going to look at the camera lens and I’m going to repeat all those different shoulder ranges of motion that I just tested and I’m going to see if they feel any different.
This is called gaze stabilization. It’s a really, really simple idea but in general if our eyes are potentially problematic to the rest of our body, very often we’ll have a difficult time stabilizing them. We’ll look at something but instead of looking right at it, they’ll flicker and they’ll move around and that radically fast shift in focus can actually be disruptive to the brain and actually can cause pain. All right?
The first thing you’re going to test is if I give myself a clear visual target to look at while I’m practicing my movements, does it change either the amount of motion that I have? Do I go from here to here? Or, does it decrease my pain?
If I was at a 7 and now it’s a 5, that’s a good sign. All right? First thing you’re going to test is gaze stabilization.
The second thing I want you to do is I now want you to try the same motions that you just performed and by wanting to do it with your eyes closed. All right?
This is a very simple super screening test. So go okay, hurts here eyes open. Close my eyes, oh, it doesn’t hurt until I get to here.
Now if you find that by closing your eyes and repeating the same ranges of motion you actually have better ranges and decreased pain by reducing visual input, you just learned something. You just learned that your eyes are potentially contributing to some of the issues that you’re having maybe in other areas of your body.
There’s a lot, again, neurophysiologic reasons we can go into as to why that may occur but right now it doesn’t matter. What you need to know is what to do about it.
So, if gaze stabilization actually improved your shoulder pain, then one of the things that you want to do is go through basic mobility drills or other exercises that you know are potentially good for your shoulder throughout the day but add to it gaze stabilization.
If, on the other hand, you actually had better range of motion and decreased pain by simply reducing visual input, closing your eyes, then as a part of your rehab, particularly for the first two weeks, you can focus on doing a lot of other shoulder exercises.
We have hundreds of them on our blogs and there’s lots of different ones that you can look at or see a Z Health professional or other professional, but you may want to consider for the first couple of weeks doing a lot of your rehab work with your eyes closed in order to decrease that visual stress.
Now, that may sound weird but again, this is all taken out of emergent pain science. We now know that your eyes matter. Your inner ear matters. How you hear matters.
Like I said, everything within the body can potentially increase your threat levels.
If your threat levels go up, that can eventually result in a protective output that most of us call pain.
Like I said, I want you to first of all explore these two things. Gaze stabilization and eyes open/eyes closed.
Choose the one that works best for you and try to apply that over the next couple of weeks to see if it can get you over that next pain hurdle.
If you have any questions about this let us know. Otherwise, good luck.