January 8, 2007 by tom
This article contains a collection of information that I presented at the “Future Stars Championships and Coaches Workshop” in Colorado Springs (United States Olympic Training Center).Â When looking at the shoulder joint, it is imperative that one studies it from both a muscle strength and muscle length perspective, as well as a posture and muscle balance viewpoint.Â Below is an overview of this opinion.
Â The pectoralis minor muscle becomes very short and causes a rounded shoulder position in certain athletes (i.e. gymnasts) and in those that slouch.Â This muscle is in the chest area and originates on the third, fourth, and fifth ribs and attaches at the coracoid process (a projection coming forward from the shoulder blade).Â When it tests short, it causes the shoulder girdle complex to remain forward and sets up poor mechanics during arm movements.Â This can cause shoulder pain, nerve and blood vessel impingement and create movement problems such as inability to move the arms above the head.Â The coach, parent, and/or teammate must passively stretch the athlete’s shoulder down on a daily basis to prevent or improve the pectoralis minor muscle length.
Â The lower trapezius muscle is the antagonist of the pectoralis minor and must be strengthened in most cases.Â If an athlete slouches, has a short pectoralis minor and/or carries a heavy backpack on one shoulder he/she may have a long, stretched out lower trapezius muscle.Â The lower trapezius muscle can be strengthened with correct sitting and standing posture and with strengthening exercises (facelying, shoulder blades pulled back/down/in, arms overhead and lift).
Â If the athlete has short pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, and teres major muscles, it will be difficult for them to reach their arms above their head without arching their back or having their arms up, but too wide.Â Keeping the lower abdominal muscles contracted, the low back flat against the floor or wall, and the arms held overhead, can stretch the above named muscles.
Â The rotator cuff muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscles.Â These muscles are an intrinsic part of the shoulder capsule and if these muscles are stiff, the capsule is probably stiff.Â The athlete can be assessed for correct shoulder lateral and medial rotation.Â When the biomechanics of the shoulder joint are incorrect, microtrauma can occur and lead to rotator cuff tears.Â If the tear is severe, the athlete cannot hold their arm up or out to the side (positive drop arm test).
The athlete must be aware of their posture and muscle balance and how this affects their shoulder health.Â Activities of daily living (sitting, standing, arm movements overhead, and repetitive activities) must be monitored for correct technique.Â
WORDS TO THE ATHLETE:Â Many athletes wear a very heavy backpack (or gym bag) on one or both shoulders and it seems that they shrug their shoulders just to keep the backpack on.Â Other athletes tense up when they study or perform certain skills and their shoulders elevate and get sore and tight.Â You and your teammates have the potential to look relaxed, sleek and confident when you perform, so follow the guidelines below.Â
- Remove unwanted heavy items from your backpack or gym bag. Try a backpack on wheels for school and a suitcase with wheels for travel.
- Test yourself on activities of daily living. Make sure that you keep your shoulders relaxed when you do simple things like fixing your hair, working on the computer or reaching up high to get something out of a cabinet.
- Practice pulling your shoulder blades gently down, back and in toward your spine whenever you are sitting, standing or doing most skills. This will increase the strength in your lower trapezius muscles. Stretch your neck muscles by relaxing your head to one side and keeping the opposite shoulder pulled down.
Final Note:Â Besides the potential of improved performance, you will have increased chest expansion and the ability to breathe more comfortably, as well as, less pain and stiffness in your shoulder region.Â Good Luck!