In my home-health practice, low back pain is the number 1 orthopedic complaint, but shoulder issues come in a close second. Why? Because most activities in life are done in front of us-driving, pushing objects like walkers or grocery carts, computer use, etc. We do very little pulling, and as a result, the muscles of the shoulders become strong and shortened in the top and the front. End result; the shoulders are pulled forward and upward. This is a problem on two fronts. First, when the shoulders are forward, they can’t rotate properly in the shoulder socket, which damages the rotator cuff muscles. Secondly, if the front muscles of the shoulder are strong and tight, it leaves the opposing muscles in the back of the shoulder weak and in a lengthened position. The upper back is unable to do its job, and stress is put on the thoracic spine. I’ve found several exercises and stretches that have really benefitted many of my clients and myself. I’ll share a few of them here.I have a video on my website from 2014 which you can access. The following pictures are an addendum to my video.
1). Hanging from a bar or pole, or doorway helps improve the strength and mobility of your upper body. In this photo, I’m hanging from a ceiling strap, and I can control how much load I place on my shoulder by increasing or decreasing how much of my body weight my legs carry. If you use a vertical pole, you can adjust the distance of your feet and elevation of your hands, using both a palms-up and palms down grip.
2). Doorway stretch. Find a narrow doorway and place forearms on the door jams. Making sure you keep the hands and elbows flat, lean through the doorway and drop your chin. You can slide the arms up and down the door jam to vary the stretch.
3). Elbow curls. This exercise is great for shoulder flexion/extension. Start with hands in a thumbs-up position with fingers clenched tightly. Place knuckles on temples and rotate has so that thumbs are pointed down toward chest. Keeping knuckles on temples, squeeze elbows toward each other as far as you can, then open as wide as possible. I repeat this 10 times a day, for most days of the week.
4). Reach for the sky. Clasp your hands together with elbows straight in front of you. Turn hands over so that you are looking at the back of your hands and raise arms toward the ceiling, following with your eyes. While keeping elbows straight, pull shoulder blades down-hold for 10 seconds.
5). Windmill. Lie on your back and bend a knee. Pull that leg across your body as far as you can without letting the same side shoulder come off the ground. Straighten your arm to the side with the palm up. Move arm along the ground so that it is pointing straight over head. Move up and down in the 90 degree range of motion. Repeat 10 reps.
If you have tight shoulders, try making these a part of your routine most days of the week. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.