Sal Alfano
Sharpe + Harrell Photography Sal Alfano

I’ve got a bum shoulder. The most common injury is a tear in one of the four rotator cuff muscles caused by, say, repeatedly throwing 95 mph fastballs. I don’t pitch in the bigs, and what I have is the less-glamorous “impingement syndrome.” This results from inflammation that causes pain when I move my arm in certain ways — to swing a golf club, for example.

Therapy involves ice to reduce swelling; stretching to improve flexibility and mobility; strengthening to add stability and prevent future injury; and patience, which gives the cure time to work.

So, why am I writing about my shoulder while you’re scraping around looking for remodeling work?

The first answer is simple. In this slow economy, many remodelers are returning to fieldwork, and that puts them at increased risk for muscle tears, lumbar strains, and tendonitis that can lay them up for months. According to my physical therapist, the problem is that lifting and bending and sitting tend to overstrengthen certain muscles at the expense of others. This pulls the shoulders, chest, and back forward, and one wrong twist or turn on the jobsite is all it takes to feel the accumulated effects.

To avoid problems, balance activity that tightens your back and shoulders with activity that opens and stretches those areas and tightens your core. Age matters, but youth will not protect against bad practice.

Three Keys to Recovery

But there’s more. Rehabbing my shoulder has got me thinking about the problem of injury and recovery, and how the prescription for an ailing shoulder has application for an ailing remodeling business.

Stretch. A business needs the ability to flex against pressures that threaten to break it, and it needs to be able to switch direction quickly without losing its balance. Whether that means learning about social media and Web marketing or creating more transparency with clients and being more open to collaboration, all businesses need to stretch. But as with shoulder therapy, stretching too far too fast can do more harm than good.

Strengthen. To avoid future injuries, bolster the support structure that’s currently in place. Tighten up essential systems and buff out established processes. Strive to excel at what you already do well, and reinforce existing relationships with clients, suppliers, and trades.

Be patient. My shoulder will get better and so will your business, but no one knows how long recovery might take. In the meantime, avoid anything that makes the current situation worse. Next time you’re tempted to do something that feels risky, remember this patient-doctor exchange from my shoulder exam:

Me: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.”

Doc: “Don’t do that.”

And don’t forget the ice.

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.