Loosen Up Those Stiff Shoulders

Shoulder joints can be the most temperamental part of the entire body.  One day they are feeling fine as you throw the football around with your buddies then you find they leave you in a dilapidated state the next day.  Shoulders can also be fickle because with their seemingly limitless range of motion (ROM) what moves well in one direction may come to a screeching halt in another.  This could be due to several factors like: postural considerations, using them more repetitively in one direction more than another and past and present injury concerns.

In last month’s video post I demonstrated several ways to mobilize and strengthen the shoulder joint using bands.  Those movements work well to get a relatively healthy shoulder moving the way it is intended and to strengthen the joint through the various angles of movement.  But what if the problem is more chronic and needs something more than a quick warm up or basic intermittent exercises?

Chances are if you use your shoulders frequently in a sport setting (i.e. volleyball, tennis, baseball pitching etc.) there is going to be some inhibition in certain ROMs and possibly some imbalances between the two sides.

The most common degradation for shoulder mobility is found in shoulder flexion with the inability to properly raise the arm completely overhead without assistance of other muscles and manipulation of other joints.  These other joints and muscles can try to compensate for the shoulder’s lack of flexion and provide a false ROM but the end result is that the shoulder actually fatigues more quickly.

Limited flexibility mainly comes from the muscles that assist in performing movement.  With multiple repetitions performed in a sport setting it is likely to assume that some muscles surrounding the shoulder joint have become shorter and some have become longer and therefore inhibit motion.  The band mobility and strengthening drills mentioned earlier will help rectify those problems

If the movement inhibition is the result of an injury sustained or chronic overuse, along with the muscles imbalances, there is a good chance that the joint capsule is the culprit.  The joint capsule is the cause of about 50% of a healthy person’s lack of ROM comes from tightness of the joint capsule (1).  Common static stretching alone does not specifically address these tight joint capsules most effectively.

To stretch out a joint capsule you are going to need some sort of force component that creates a traction-like effect; the bands work well to do this.

If you have chronically tight shoulder joints and have ruled out a serious injury like a labral or rotator cuff tear then check out the video below and see how I like to use the band to traction my tight shoulders.

1) Johns, R.J., and V. Wright. Relative Importance of Various Tissues in Joint Stiffness. Journal of Applied Physiology, 17(5), 824-828, 1962.