Do you suffer from shoulder pain? If so, you’re not alone. Even if you don’t, it’s likely that you have anteriorly rotated (forward rotated) shoulders. Over time, this positional fault in the shoulders will lead to pain. So why does this lead to pain and what can we do about it? It comes down to 3 things: postural awareness, stretching, and strengthening exercises.
First, let’s talk a little anatomy. We’ve all heard the term “rotator cuff”, and it is commonly associated with shoulder injuries. So what is it? The rotator cuff refers to a group of 4 muscles: the infraspinatus, the supraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis. The primary function that these 4 muscles are designed for is to stabilize the humerus (upper arm bone) in the glenohumeral fossa (shoulder socket). What happens when our shoulders become too anteriorly rotated is that these little guys start to take up the slack that they weren’t designed for and over time become strained, which leads to pain and injury.
So why do the majority of us have anteriorly rotated shoulders? It’s simple: our lifestyle. Anyone who works a desk job, who’s on the computer all day, anytime we are on our cellphones, playing videogames… Couple that with a general lack of exercise (both stretching and strengthening), and you can see how gradually we slip innocently into this postural fault.
So what can we do about it? Awareness is the first step. Imagine that you have a pen between your shoulder blades. Now try and pinch it together and pin it between them. Did you cramp up, feel weird sticking out your chest, or shrug the shoulders up instead of straight back? This is the first part of bringing awareness and propriception back to proper shoulder posture. Over time we become so acclimated to poor posture, and returning to proper form often initially feels strange, and sometimes painful. But the more aware we become, the more we’ll catch ourselves from slipping into those bad habits.
Now that we’re aware of how our shoulders should be sitting, what can we do to keep them there. First, we must stretch out the main offenders: the pectoralis major and minor (chest), the biceps brachii, and the coracobrachialis (arm). When these muscles become chronically tight from our daily work and leisure routines, they begin to pull our shoulders forward, putting strain on our 4 little rotator cuff muscles. So stretch out your pecs and your biceps!
Now that we’ve loosened up the anterior (front) muscle groups, it’s time to strengthen up our posterior (back) groups. Make your rhomboids and your latissimus dorsi your new best friends. The rhomboids attach from your spine to the inside border your shoulder blades. The latissimus dorsi attaches from your pelvis all the way to your humerus (upper arm bone). It’s huge. Don’t ignore it. Any kind of rowing exercise will target your rhomboids and help strengthen the retraction of your shoulder blades (squeezing them straight back together, not up!). For the latissimus dorsi, pull downs are the way to go. Once you are strong enough, switch to pull ups, this is a more dynamic exercise that requires more strength and will recruit synergist (assisting) muscle groups. Also, focus on the middle and upper trapezius, and your deltoid. The deltoid is the prime mover of your shoulder. It controls flexion (front), abduction (side), and extension (behind). So keep your deltoid nice and strong so it takes the work off of the rotator cuff group. The trapezius is also a huge muscle that elevates and retracts the shoulder blades. Strengthening your trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi will help to keep the shoulder blades retracted and keep the shoulders in a proper neutral position.
1- become aware of your posture
2- stretch out your arm and chest muscles
3- strengthen your back and shoulder muscles
Thank you so much for reading my very first blog post! Until next time!