The shoulder is an area that gives problems to both athletes and non-athletes. Though, I consider everyone an athlete, because we were all designed for movement and many of the physical problems that occur are movement related. Too much of some movements and not enough of others. For anyone undergoing shoulder problems, current or past, you need to look at posture first. Proper posture puts the shoulders in the most mechanically efficient position and its this lack of good posture that often puts undue stress on the shoulders. Remember, that being seated for long periods of time can cause the shoulders to round forward. This position places more stress on the shoulder joint. When the shoulders are rounded forward, along with the head and neck, the muscles of the upper back are often put on stretch. This contributes to them being weak. The muscles surrounding the shoulder blade must be strong to help support movement of the shoulder.
When properly strengthened, these muscles provide a stable platform for explosive movement at the shoulder, such as throwing, spiking a volleyball, or a tennis serve. It gets back to having a balanced body, in this case, front to back. If not an athlete, you still need this balance for healthy shoulders. Having shoulders that are rounded forward could cause injury as they may “wear out” prematurely. While working in physical therapy, I assisted with many different types of injuries. I always asked a person how they injured themselves, part of my curious nature. In those 55 and older who had had shoulder surgery, many of them told me they had done nothing to injure themselves. Of these people, none had good posture. I mentioned that poor posture places the shoulder in an inefficient mechanical position. Its possible that this position causes unnecessary wear and tear on the shoulder that builds up over time, like the fraying of a rope against a rock. In any case, the shoulders work best when the muscles on the front of the body are balanced with those in back. While watching a show on FIT TV on the training of elite athletes, they featured a section on the Egoscue Method. A football player, John Lynch of the Denver Broncos, had run across Pete Egoscue while doing track workouts at a local high school. Lynch, then 16 years old and playing football and baseball, was having shoulder problems.
Egoscue showed him some simple exercises that require no equipment and the shoulder problem went away. I wish I had known about these exercises 20 some years ago before I started lifting weights. Maybe I wouldn’t have had all the shoulder problems that I’ve had. Lifting weights for several years with poor posture caused a great deal of wear and tear. Enough that in ’92 I sought the opinion of an orthopedic surgeon. He told me that I’d probably had a minor rotator cuff tear, along with a partially dislocated shoulder. He told me to have surgery or quit lifting weights. No physical therapy or corrective exercises were offered. If he had just given me these two exercises, maybe that would have helped. Oh well, sometimes we learn things the hard way. Its taught me a little about shoulder problems. At the time, an athletic trainer gave me some rotator cuff exercises to do. I stopped my weight training and concentrated on these exercises to strengthen that area. Over time, my shoulder felt better and I slowly got back to the weights. I would be fine for a while, but the problems came back.
I think the missing link was the postural work. My shoulders were still rounded forward and I needed to be back in alignment. So its great to do work for the rotator cuff, but don’t forget the shoulder blades and getting them strong and stable. Like a lot of tall people (I’m about 6-5), I slouched when sitting down and my shoulders rounded forward. My body adapted to this position. I had poor posture and didn’t know it. Also, remember to keep a tall, lengthened spine when doing any strength exercises. Besides putting you in the most mechanically efficient position, this will also reinforce good posture. I’ll finish with two simple exercises that will work on your posture and help stabilize your shoulderblades. For both of these, you will sit in a chair. First, something to add mobility to your thoracic spine, an area neglected in many exercise programs, but extremely important for healthy shoulders. Sit in a chair while keeping a tall spine and relaxed shoulders. Pick a spot on your lower breast bone as the area that you will push from. While exhaling, push this spot forward and slightly up.
Then slowly inhale, pushing your midback area backwards, and repeat this sequence 6-8 times. At first, you may not move very far. That’s okay. Work with what your body will allow and you should gradually increase your motion. You may need someone to place their fingers on these two areas to assist you in feeling where you should be moving. For example, someone could place their fingers about midback and gently push as you exhale to move away from the light pressure. The next exercise is similar to the last one, but works to stabilize the shoulderblades. Assume the same position, but now the focus will be on squeezing the shoulderblades together. Slightly arch your low back forward. Squeeze and hold for 5 seconds and slowly relax. Do this 10 times, making sure not to strain. Rest and repeat once or twice.