LIVING UPRIGHT IN A BENT SOCIETY:
Shoulder Posture Analysis
I have been a personal trainer for 15 years and involved in sports my whole life; however, it wasn’t until I learned about proper posture, that I truly understood the body, how it works and how to make it function properly. Bringing education and awareness to correct posture in myself and my clients, I have seen more relief of chronic aches and pains, increased mobility, and improved strength yields than ever before.
WHAT ISSUES ARE ASSOCIATED WITH POOR SHOULDER POSTURE?
A whole host of issues can be caused from poor shoulder posture.
- Shoulder pain and inflammation because of chronic rubbing and friction due to misalignment.
- Muscle strains and even tears in back, chest and arm muscles
- Reduced upper body strength because of muscle imbalances
- Chronic headaches and neck pain
- Shorter breathing
- Inability to stand up straight
MY EXPERIENCE WITH POOR SHOULDER POSTURE
A little back [or rather shoulder] story on why shoulder posture is so important to me. I was a competitive gymnast for 14 years. As you can imagine, this can take a toll on the body! After stopping gymnastics, I started lifting weights and working out regularly. In college, while lifting weights, I hurt my shoulder. Not knowing what else to do, I went to a shoulder specialist who did an MRI and informed me I have a torn labrum (cartilage), and partial tears in one of my rotator cuff muscles and my biceps tendon…and I needed surgery. I followed his advice and underwent surgery. I recovered well until 6 months later I tore it again. And after another surgery, I tore it again.
Long story short, after 3 surgeries in less than 2 years on the same shoulder, I still had chronic shoulder pain. I finally tried a non-traditional route and was referred by a friend to a neuromuscular massage therapist. He told me this:
“If you had come to me first, you would have never needed surgery. Your problem is that your pecs (chest muscles) are tight and your shoulders are rolled forward in your shoulder socket. This is creating constant friction on the muscles and tendons and creating the inflammation and damage you are experiencing.”
From that day forward, I have been religious about keeping good shoulder posture and I do not have chronic shoulder pain!
WHAT IS PROPER SHOULDER POSTURE?
Think of your daily life: sitting at a computer, texting, driving. All of these postures have our shoulder’s rolled forward and our shoulder blade’s protracted.
Lets take a look at the anatomical position. Shoulders back, scapula’s (shoulder blades) retracted and depressed, chest opened up, chin tucked. Our body is happiest and functions most optimally is when we are closest to this position.
RETRACTION VS. PROTRACTION
Look at the picture above and you will find the difference between shoulders pulled back (retraction) and shoulders forward (protraction). The scapula (shoulder blade) is unique in that it is one of the few bones in the body that only has one bony attachment, which is on top of the shoulder (in contrast, the humerus, or upper arm bone, has two bony attachments, the elbow and the shoulder). Because of that, the scapula has a tendency to be unstable. Instability in the scapula can cause all kinds of problems with the shoulder, including strains, pulls and tears in the rotator cuff muscles, bicep tendon, labrum, and many more. Instability also leads to improper form when doing movements which can create muscle imbalances and a host of other issues. When the shoulder is retracted, or pulled back, it allows the use of back and shoulder muscles to stabilize the scapula and acts as a second bony attachment for the scapula. So basically, we need to stay in a retracted state during most movements, whether doing a row or sitting at your computer, doing a chest press or texting.
DEPRESSION VS. ELEVATION
Another crucial position is scapular depression rather than elevation. Often times you will find yourself shrugged, or with a short neck. This position overworks your upper trapezius and creates unnecessary tension in the upper back. Long-term this leads to an over development of the upper back vs the middle back muscles, which can lead to muscular imbalance and injury.
HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE PROPER SHOULDER POSTURE?
Unfortunately, proper posture is not something that is easily changed. It is a multi-step approach that requires long term attention. Here is my approach:
- Chest and middle back Flexibility – A common barrier that prevents people from even being able to achieve proper posture is lack of flexibility. Using a combination of stretching techniques and foam rolling, you can loosen the muscles and tissues that are preventing your body from achieving the proper posture. This needs to happen before strengthening or else you will just be reinforcing bad form during your exercise. Try this chest stretch daily!
- Learn Scapular Retraction and Depression – Body awareness and the ability to activate the appropriate muscles are important. This might require special attention initially.
- Back Strength – Strengthening the muscles of your middle back, including the middle traps, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, etc. will allow you to maintain good posture once you’ve learned it. Exercises includes Row, Lat Pulldown, Reverse Fly and others. But remember…always maintain scapular retraction and depression!
- Mindfulness – The most crucial for your success, this includes being mindful every waking minute of your shoulder posture. Including sitting at your desk, driving in your car, texting and using electronics, exercise, etc.
- Seek Professional Help- Without knowledge in this area it can be hard to apply these principles and experience relief. Working with a Personal Trainer that knows how to help you through this process can make all the difference. Contact me today if you are looking to avoid surgery and keep your body well!
Although most of us were harped on as children about our posture, it is time to finally listen! Poor posture might be a causing more chronic issues in your life that you don’t even realize. At NuFit Wellness, we spend ample time learning these foundational concepts before advancing. If you would like, contact me to learn how this applies in your own body. I hope you can find as much relief from your chronic issues as I have from improving posture!