Optimizing shoulder function

The shoulder is one of the most versatile and complex joints in the human body. As the connection point for the upper extremity to the body it is required to provide a tremendous amount of mobility while sustaining high stress loads. This unique relationship between mobility and stability is a component of why shoulder pain and dysfunction occurs. Remote areas of the body can also impact the function of the shoulder. For instance, stiffness in our mid back or weakness in our mid line, A.K.A. the core, can also alter how the shoulder behaves. Here area a few tips on how to keep the shoulders healthy and happy.

  1. Always focus on quality over quantity. The quality of the movement you are trying to achieve should always trump the amount of weight, the number of repetitions, speed or duration. Once form is broken and you can’t regain the proper movement the exercise should stop or be modified.
  2. Not all pain in the shoulder is solely the fault of the shoulder. Stiffness in the thoracic spine can alter the movement of the shoulder leading to issues such as impingement and tendon irritation. Spending time on maintaining good mid back mobility and posture can help keep the shoulder moving more freely and efficiently.
  3. Address on your weaknesses. I’m not just referencing muscular weaknesses here either. If your posture is poor find time to stretch what is tight and strengthen what is weak. If you don’t have adequate shoulder range of motion find time to mobilize the joint and/or the surrounding tissue. If you have multiple areas that need to be worked on you need to devote enough time to properly address them. You may not feel like mobility work is “exercising” but helping your body move better can allow you to train harder and reduce the risk for injury.
  4. Build a strong foundation. You would never build a house on a foundation of sand so then why do so many try and train with a poorly organized core? Your body’s ability to stabilize and control movement originates in the core of our body. You can’t have distal mobility without proximal stability and that is why no matter the goal or injury you should always make sure you have a good foundation to work from.
  5. Treatment or at least a consultation as soon as possible. In the acute stages of an injury there is a cascade of events taking place to help protect the injured site as well as assist in recovery. Things such as swelling, redness, bruising, weakness and of course pain are often associated with acute trauma as well as chronic problems. It is important that we accurately and quickly provide a clinical diagnosis that will start you on an early intervention protocol. Early treatment can make the difference between a shoulder problem that takes seven days or seven weeks to recover from. Connect with a qualified health care professional such as a physical therapist, chiropractor, athletic trainer or body worker. If that person is not sure how to manage the condition, they likely have a great network of people that can get you on track and started as quickly as possible.

As an aside, these principles relate to more then just the shoulder and can be applied to any area of the body.

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