Healthy Shoulders

I read a bulletin this morning on rotator cuff injuries by Chris Mallio, the head of sports medicine at Bath Rugby in Queensland, Australia. As a trainer and competitive swimmer, I devour any article on the subject. One of the points he reiterates is that a major contributor to rotator cuff injuries is when a “space problem” occurs in the shoulder girdle. Basically, when your muscles and posture are in balance, the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the shoulder are able to move around without brushing up against bony structures as long as there is no inherent abnormality in the shape of the acromonian (or no bone spurs are present). However, most of us have imbalances in posture and musculature. This leads to a shortage of space for fluid movement in the shoulder. When repetitive abrasion occurs, so does inflammation and injury.

A common postural issue in our society of computer users is a forward slump, which leads to a protracted and downwardly rotated scapula. Sitting with a forward lean in front of the computer tightens the chest and weakens the back of the body. If you go to the gym and emphasize chest flies, bench press, and pushups and neglect the back muscles, this will further exacerbate the imbalance. Stretching the chest for 30-60 seconds daily (I prefer laying on the foam roller with arms out to let gravity do the work) and strengthening the rhomboids and upper trapezius can go a long way to remediate this imbalance. Activities such as rows (with a shoulder blade “squeeze” at the back) and scapular retraction are effective exercises to strengthen the back of the body.

Unhealthy “thickening” of connective tissue around the muscles that can inhibit movements may be remediated through regular massage or rolling under tissues with a ball or foam roller. Be sure to have a physical therapist teach you proper technique and to evaluate your condtion to ensure that what you are doing is safe and applicable to your situation.

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1 Response

  1. Micaela von Richthofen says:

    Hi Susan,
    I love your site. So much useful information and well written.
    This article on shoulder issues has been very helpful to me. It may explain
    the loss of range of movement in my shoulders I have noticed when swimming.
    Also you have inspired me to finally plan a visit to Prague!

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