There is one major thing which we all seek to avoid, whether it is a result of sports or just in our own daily hustle. That thing is injury. Every time we raise out of bed in the morning, we are vulnerable to some type of injury.
The shoulder joint is one of the hardest working joints in the body and this makes it susceptible to injury. The likelihood of such an injury occurring can be greatly reduced if we keep our shoulders mobile, free of tension and stiffness.
Mechanics of the Shoulder Joint
The three bones which comprise the shoulder joint are, your upper arm bone (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula) and your collarbone (clavicle). The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, with the ball being at the top of your upper arm and connecting with the socket in your shoulder blade.
The contact points of the bones are covered with cartilage which helps ensure smooth contact between the bones and no friction. This is aided by surrounding synovial fluid on all other areas of the joint. The muscles and tendons in the joint then support and stabilize.
The rotator cuff and deltoid muscles are key when it comes to both stability, elevation and range of movement in the shoulder. Research shows that as many as one in five suffer from rotator cuff tears, with many not presenting symptoms. For this reason, they become a focal point when we are trying to improve joint mobility and prevent injury.
Test Your Shoulder Flexibility
Starting out, one of the easiest ways that you can check the level of mobility in your shoulder joints is by taking the simple, shoulder flexibility test. This presents a good indicator as to the level of your mobility and what you need to work on.
- From a standing position raise your left arm straight above your head.
- Bending your left elbow toward your body, place the palm of your left hand between your shoulder blades.
- Reaching behind your back with your right hand up the middle of your back, try to touch the fingers of both hands before repeating the steps on the other shoulder.
- The distance between your fingers (if any) will provide a good indicator of your shoulder flexibility and overall joint mobility.
The more your fingers overlap during the flexibility test, the better. Remember to keep your back straight too. The flexibility test is a good guide, but does not mean you shouldn’t work to improve your joint mobility further.
Exercises to Improve Mobility
There are so many different types of stretches and exercises, all working to assist various body parts in their own way. Similarly, these exercises will greatly help to increase shoulder joint mobility when performed routinely.
Stiffness in the muscles can be one of the major causes of shoulder injuries, yet also one of the simplest things to relieve which can instantly improve your shoulder mobility. A tennis ball is most useful to begin.
- Starting at the front of your shoulder, place the ball between your pectoral muscles and a wall. This is most common area for tension to accumulate at the front of the shoulder.
- Apply light pressure whilst rolling the ball around the tense area. Do these for one or two minutes, increasing pressure if necessary before switching to the other shoulder.
- On the rear of the shoulder, target the area between your shoulder blades. Perform the exercise lying with the tennis ball between your shoulder blades and the floor.
This is an excellent opening exercise. Warming up is highly recommended in every activity to reduce the risk of possible injury and in this case, your shoulder tension will be removed and the joint immensely more mobile as a result.
Anterior Reach Exercise
Another excellent exercise which you can do basically anywhere, this will help to stretch and strengthen your anterior muscles which are key in stabilizing and mobilizing the shoulder blades. Improving strength in these muscles will greatly improve shoulder joint mobility and range of motion.
- Lie on your front with your elbows and forearms only in the plank position, propping up your upper body.
- Arch your head and chest upwards and with a deep breath, expand your shoulder blades outward.
- Reach one arm straight forward while holding this position for one minute After bringing your arm back, reset to the previous step and repeat on the other side.
This is another simple but very thorough way to increase shoulder mobility which you can again do from the comfort of your own home if you wish.
- With your back and feel flat against a wall, stretch your arms out straight, perpendicular to your body with palms facing out, against the wall.
- From here, raise your forearms to a 90 degree angle. Your forearms should now be parallel with your body.
- Raise both arms above your head so your palms meet above your head. All the while keeping your arms flat against the wall.
Guarding Against Future Injury
Through recurrence or simply through aging, injury becomes more and more likely as our years advance. The risk of rotator cuff tears for example, more than doubled in patients over 60 in a recent study. This means that the responsibility is on us to keep our shoulder joints mobile, healthy and injury free.
The best way we can do this is by continuing to both stretch and further strengthen the joints. As your body adjusts to the methods prescribed above, challenge yourself by incorporating light weights into the exercises. Pushing ourselves within safe boundaries is key to living an injury free life.
Keeping our shoulder joints mobile and flexible is something that will stand the test of time and even if we cannot appreciate the benefit now, our bodies will be thankful in future years. The best way increased shoulder mobility can pay dividends is silently, without injury.
John C. is a physiotherapist student who also holds a BSc. in Kinesiology as well as a Master’s Degree in Biomechanics. When he’s not studying or blogging over at Brace Access you can find him at the rink doing what all good Canadian boys do, playing puck.