Staying Loose and Mobile in the Right Places:
The shoulder is a joint that requires a lot of muscular control to stabilize as it is very unstable and incongruent. There is little surface area connection between your humerus and shoulder socket (called the Glenoid Fossa). This, along with being a ball and socket classification joint, allows for a large range of motion in multiple different planes. However, limitations can occur with the soft tissue or with joint mechanics. Whether it is the joint capsule, tendons, or muscles, they can become tight or short and prevent increased range of motion.
There are three main areas that can cause decreased mobility and should be a target for improving it; the shoulder joint itself, the soft tissue/muscles that cross the joint, and the thoracic spine and the movement of the shoulder blade on it (called the scapula).
Firstly, let’s talk about the soft tissue, some of the big culprits can be the internal rotators that usually cross the front of the shoulder joint such as the lats and the subscapularis. When this tissue becomes tight it prevents the normal mechanics of the shoulder to occur and pulls the shoulder down and in, making going over head or externally rotating difficulty, as is the demand of many athletes for things like pull ups or throwing a ball. But this tissue can be directly targeted with stretching and manual therapy hands on techniques – influencing the shoulder joint through mobilizations, MET’s (muscle energy technique) and soft-tissue.
Check out these videos on education and exercises regarding the shoulder joint, rotator cuff, and strength:
These exercises are designed to improve the joint range of motion and shoulder movement over head. We can’t eliminate injury, but staying balanced with movement as athletes can help lower the risk of injury.
Another big player in shoulder mobility is the joint itself, oftentimes this means the joint capsule that surrounds the joint. This often becomes less mobile as we age and if the shoulder is held in a shortened position for a long time. It can also become less mobile if the same activity, that only brings it through a shorter range of motion, is repeated over and over, as can be the case with certain lifts. This is where movement variability and motion is lotion becomes important.
The final target of shoulder mobility is the thoracic spine and the scapulothoracic relationship. Your scapula needs to be able to move on your upper back and rib cage in order for the shoulder to go through its full range of motion. One third of the motion of your shoulder, roughly 60 degrees, comes from your shoulder blade rotating and not from the shoulder joint itself. When going overhead the thoracic spine needs to extend to allow the shoulder blade to move and rotate up to position the arm where it does not get impinged. Many people struggle with thoracic extension due to the significant amount of time we spend in a flexed position, aka on a computer, and thoracic mobility exercises can become paramount.
If you have been having trouble with shoulder mobility give the above exercises a try and see how far you can reach. If you are still having trouble with mobility give us a shout and we can figure where you are having the mobility issue and target it more directly!
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