Shoulders are a highly mobile region of the body, designed for high ranges of motion to allow your hands and arms to execute a range of functions in both sport and daily life. Like a house built on solid foundations, your shoulder complex requires stability and support in these high ranges of motion, to ensure efficient and pain free movement.
The shoulder complex is comprised of four joints: the glenohumeral, acromioclavicular, sternoclavicular and scapulothoracic joints. The scapulothoracic joint, termed a ‘functional’ joint, is the articulation between your scapula (shoulder blade) and thorax (ribcage). The scapula glides along your ribcage to position itself and provide a stable base for the upper limb in movement. This synchrony and control in scapular position often determines how well your upper limb is able to move, particularly into overhead positions.
The muscles attaching to and covering the scapula provide stability to the scapulothoracic joint, both at rest and through movement. Over time, particularly with poor postures or a lack of strength-based training, these muscles develop weakness which may compromise scapular movement or leave it in a suboptimal resting position (e.g. scapular winging). This can result in altered scapular kinematics (movements) travelling into overhead positions, and may even restrict shoulder range of motion.
In the current lockdown, many are not completing their usual gym/group class/pilates routines, are sitting longer, and working from home with an unfamiliar or less than ideal desk setup. None of these lend themselves well to your scapular muscles.
Given the high mobility and need for stability at the shoulder complex, strengthening (rather than stretching) is often the answer to shoulder pain or restrictions in movement. Here are a few exercises that may be useful, either as a warm up before upper body work (1-2 sets) or as strengthening exercises (3-4 sets) to promote scapular stability:
1. High to low pulldowns
2. Single arm rows
3. Reverse flys
5. Foam roller wall slides
In general, commencing exercises in neutral positions (arms by side) and progressing towards overhead is a good place to start. If you have any pain, a history of shoulder injury or are unsure of any exercises, it’s best to review with your physio to individualise your program and ensure the exercises are appropriate for you.