Your shoulders are two of the hardest working and most mobile parts of your body, moving constantly throughout the day with every step, reach, and hand gesture that we make. Since the shoulders are ball and socket joints, the bones and muscles surrounding them have more range of motion than any other area in the body, causing them to be more prone to injury. Here are a few tips to help you protect your shoulders from harm:
1. Make sure to correct your posture!
In a world of cell phone use and looking down at computer screens, many people find themselves with a forward head posture. In this posture, our chins are forward and our upper back and trapezius muscles are stressed. Poor posture with a forward head is usually caused by too much sitting, poor lifting techniques, and muscular imbalances. There are many muscles that connect between the shoulder girdle, neck, head, and jaw. In a simple sense, the shoulder “hangs” from the head. The shoulder and the rotator cuff muscles (there are four) all begin from the cervical spine. When we have good posture, we allow for adequate space for nerve structures and normal load sharing to the shoulder girdle. When weight lifting, we can create an imbalance by excessively using our dominant arm. Try a standing one arm shoulder press while maintaining optimal postural alignment throughout the entire movement.
2. Mobilize the thoracic spine
We must be able to extend our thoracic spine (middle back) adequately in order to protect our shoulder from impingement and excessive strain. In order to mobilize the thoracic spine before your upper body workouts, use a foam roller to stretch and warm up. Place the foam roller perpendicular to your spine under your shoulder blades. Cradle your neck in your hands and slowly drop backward over the foam roller toward the floor. Go slowly and as comfortably as you can go, holding the movement at the bottom for 5 seconds. Sit up and move the foam roller up one vertebra and repeat the sequence.
3. Brace your core
In order to generate force, we must make sure our inner core is providing the proper stable foundation so that our extremities can work and move properly. When our core is braced during a movement, the core muscles are stabilizing the spinal column, rib cage, and pelvis so that we can move our shoulder without faulty movement patterns. If your core is not actively engaging, your shoulder musculature can be overworked, causing pain and inflammation in the shoulder joint.
4. Work with your range of motion while bench pressing
Many people think that while performing the bench press, the bar must be lowered to the chest in order to have the best form possible. However, not everyone is anatomically designed to perform the bench press all the way down to the chest, as it requires a greater range of motion than the shoulder joint can perform. Loading the shoulder and forcing it beyond its functional range of motion will stretch the shoulder joint capsule, which is designed to allow the right amount of motion to prevent joint damage. In order to assess your correct bench press range of motion for your shoulders, place your arms in the bench press position and allow your arms to lower to their passive end range of motion. At this position, the arm will naturally stop without being forced. Once you have identified the end position of passive shoulder range of motion, lift your arms 2-3cm to find your optimal bottom position for the bench press exercise to protect the joint capsule from overloading when the weights get heavy.
Use these tips to help you prevent shoulder injuries, including how to avoid impingements and damaging the joint capsule. If you have a shoulder pathology that needs rehabilitation, please contact Stephanie Szpila of Blitz Body and Mind Massage for an assessment and massage therapy to correct the issue. Cupping, kinesiology taping, instrument assisted therapy, and other modalities will be utilized in order to repair your shoulder and get you back in the gym! Please text or call (716)866-3261 to schedule an appointment today.