The expressions ‘shouldering the burden’ and ‘carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders’ give a bit of insight into what we think our shoulders should be capable of. We expect them to be robust, strong, capable and stable.
However, we also expect them to be flexible and agile – able to quickly move to wherever we need our arms and to carry the brunt of the load when they get there.
In short, our shoulders play a crucial role in the overall function of our bodies.
Normally, our shoulders have a wide range of motion, making them easily the most mobile joint in the body. But because of this flexibility, our shoulders are not always very stable and can be easily injured.
Whether you’re a professional athlete or just spend a lot of your days hunched over your computer keyboard, looking after your shoulder mobility and stability is a vital part of ensuring your shoulders can continue to perform to their best capacity.
What is shoulder mobility and why is it important?
Mobility is the ability for the body to move through its full range of motion (ROM). Keeping our shoulders mobile is vitally important if we’re going to keep them functioning at full capacity. When our shoulders begin to lose mobility, it quickly impacts on the range of actions we’re able to perform with our arms.
It’s not just athletes who experience a loss of shoulder mobility. Many people (particularly those with desk-bound jobs) report experiencing tight shoulders from time to time.
People who’ve had prolonged immobility or reduced mobility of the shoulder are at higher risk of developing frozen shoulder, a condition characterised by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint.
What is the scapula?
Your shoulder is made up of two main bones: the end of upper arm bone (humerus) and the shoulder blade (scapula).
The scapula plays an important role in the movement of your shoulder. It sits outside your rib cage, but is attached by ligaments and muscles called the scapula stabilisers.
Your shoulder joint is surrounded by a group of muscles and tendons called the rotator cuff, which work together to keep your arm bone firmly in its socket.
How important is scapular stability?
The coordinated actions between the muscles around the shoulder joint controlling your arm and the muscles attached to the scapula (shoulder blade) are crucial for efficient arm movement and joint stability.
In fact, many shoulder injuries are found to be caused by a lack of strength in the scapular stabiliser muscles.
A general rule of thumb for building muscular strength is to remember that smaller muscles should be trained with less weight and more repetition. Your rotator cuff, for example, is a small area of your body. Don’t overload it.
Exercises to improve shoulder and scapular mobility
There is a range of simple exercises you can do to improve your shoulder mobility and scapular mobility, while preventing injury.
Here’s a few of our favourites:
Thread The Needle:
This thoracic spine stretch opens the shoulders and stretches the spine. Start by kneeling on the ground and leaning forward. Then, reach one arm in front of you and place the palm flat on the ground. Reach the other arm underneath the body and relax the side of your head and body on to the ground.
Breathe and relax into the stretch so that you feel a stretch down your neck and across your shoulder blades. Rotate your chest up and open.
Prone Snow Angels:
This is a great move to help improve your shoulder mobility and to activate the muscles of your back. Start by lying face down with your legs relaxed. Place your hands behind your head and then lift your chest slightly off the ground. Arch just enough to engage your lower back. Then begin to straighten your arms up and out overhead, then out to the side (in the shape of a snow angel). As you move your hands down towards your bottom, turn your hand over and rotate your shoulders.
Downward Dog Scapular Presses:
To do this exercise, start in a downward dog yoga pose. Keep your hands under your shoulders and your feet about hip-width apart. Push your chest back towards your legs as you move your bottom up into the air. Drive your heels down toward the ground as you try to get your biceps by your ears and extend your spine.
If you’re experiencing pain, stiffness or tension in your shoulder blade, it’s important to speak to a physiotherapist who can work with you to develop exercises to treat the problem.
The Southport Central Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic work with people of all fitness levels to improve shoulder mobility and scapular stability. Please contact us today by phone on (07) 5571 2222 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a consultation.