Head down, upper back rounded, fingers clicking or swiping at our phones. Sound familiar? First world problems. So many of us are likely to be caught in this posture, recognized as the forward hunch. The forward hunch is often the root of neck, upper back and shoulder pain, resulting in muscle imbalances and discomfort, eventually producing injury. An injury is draining, and for this reason Dr. Josh Alvarado suggests we learn how to improve shoulder strength. When we improve our shoulder strength, we are causing our muscles to equalize, avoiding overcompensation. Overcompensation is overuse on one side of the muscle, which causes tension on the bones, faulty alignment, soft tissue injury, and functional weakness in the muscle. By doing this, we are reducing our risk for arthritis, rotator cuff or labral tears, chronic bursitis, and frozen shoulder syndrome.
We overuse muscles for a number of reasons, however at Arlington Pain and Rehab Courthouse, we tend to see the pectoral and deltoid muscles overused most frequently. These muscles are larger, “mirror muscles”, what we see when we look in the mirror, therefore they tend to be worked more frequently. As these muscles are getting exhausted, the upper back, rear deltoids, and shoulder blades are neglected. This leads to rounded shoulders, pain, and eventually injury. Fortunately, we are able to fend off all of this by correcting our posture and learning how to improve shoulder strength. We can begin to correct our posture by being mindful of the way we are sitting, standing, and walking. When sitting, try to focus on keeping the shoulder’s back and avoid slouching. The same advice will go for standing and walking, however when we walk it is significant to note that we should avoid looking at our feet.
Once posture recognition develops, we are in a much better place. To learn how to improve shoulder strength, it is essential to have a basic understanding of how the joint works. The shoulder works as a ball and socket joint, responsible for daily activity, such as reaching up or back to grab something, shaking a hand, throwing a ball, and putting our hair up in a ponytail. When we understand how much we actually need this precious joint, we start to take better care of it, in order to avoid muscle imbalance, discomfort, and injury.
The shoulder has complex anatomy, consisting of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bursae. These different layers make the shoulder the most mobile joint in the body, and consequently, the most unstable. Due to this instability, it is known for being one of the most injury prone joints. At Arlington Pain and Rehab Courthouse, we see many patients with shoulder pain, leading us to teach the patient how to improve shoulder strength in order to prevent future pain. Dr. Josh Alvarado suggests simple, effective exercises focusing on abduction, adduction, internal rotation, external rotation, and scapular retraction in order to improve strength.
When focusing on abduction and adduction, Dr. Josh Alvarado recommends using a light to medium resistance band with handles to perform the I, Y, and T. These exercises are performed best when the resistance band is anchored to something solid and you are either kneeling or lying on the ground, in order to take other muscles out of the movement. When performing the I, Y, and T, gently exhale and slowly lift the arms into the correct letter formation with palms facing inward, thumbs pointed up, head aligned, and a neutral spine. The key to these exercises is to focus on lifting from the shoulders and not the low back.
We can concentrate on internal rotation and external rotation of the shoulder by performing rotator cuff strengthening. The key to this is to control the tempo and focus on technique. Many patients at Arlington Pain and Rehab Courthouse are surprised by how great their shoulder feels after performing this simple move on each arm for 10 – 12 reps per side. We also want to be sure we do some scapular retraction to optimize shoulder strength. Scapular retraction can be performed a number of ways, but we like to focus on rows and band pull aparts. These moves require a good mind to muscle connection with the shoulder blades. When performing, actively think about squeezing those muscles together.
The combination of shoulder strengthening exercises with good form and posture awareness puts us in a great position for everyday life and injury prevention. With strong shoulders, we will be able to move easier, lift objects without pain, and have an overall powerful body structure.