This month we are discussing Shoulder Mobility. We look at what it is, what can limit it and what to do to improve flexibility. Part 1 focuses on what you can do to increase shoulder range of motion and includes a guide to shoulder anatomy.
Unfortunately, many struggle with tight shoulders or limited mobility due to poor posture, lack of exercise, or injury. We thought, rather than jump straight into fixing the problem or sharing shoulder mobility exercises to make improvements, let’s first look at why this might be happening.
This article begins by answering the question ‘What is Shoulder Mobility?’ and then breaks down how you might increase your shoulder range of motion through practical tips and exercises.
What is Shoulder Mobility?
Shoulder mobility is the ability of the shoulder joint to move through its full range of motion. It is important because the shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in the body, allowing us to perform a wide range of activities that involve reaching, lifting, and throwing.
But, due to many different reasons, including poor posture, lack of exercise, and injuries, people suffer from limited shoulder mobility, which can lead to pain, discomfort, and difficulty performing daily tasks.
Limited shoulder mobility can be a problem for people of all ages and fitness levels. For athletes, it can affect their performance and increase their risk of injury, while for older adults, it can limit their ability to perform basic activities of daily living, such as reaching for objects or brushing their hair.
Limited shoulder mobility can also lead to compensatory movements, which can cause imbalances and pain in other parts of the body, such as the neck, upper back, and arms.
Fortunately, specific exercises and stretches can help increase shoulder range of motion. These movements can help increase the flexibility and flow of the shoulder joint, strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint, and prevent injury. Incorporating shoulder mobility exercises and stretches into your workout routine can help you improve your functional fitness and make it easier to move your shoulders.
The Anatomy of the Shoulder: Muscles and Joints
Firstly, it is important to understand the anatomy of the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for a wide range of motion. However, this also makes it more prone to injury and instability. Some people can suffer from impingement or other shoulder injuries, so we want to take good care of how we use it.
The good news is that with the right tips and shoulder mobility exercises, you can enhance your flexibility and tone, leading to a broader range of motion and improved overall shoulder health.
The shoulder is a complex joint that consists of several key structures, including bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Let’s have a look at this critical part of the body, the joints involved in it’s flexibility, and the muscles that play a role in shoulder movement.
Anatomy of the Shoulder:
The shoulder joint is primarily formed by three bones:
- Humerus: The upper arm bone.
- Scapula: The shoulder blade, which has two important landmarks: the glenoid cavity (a shallow socket) and the acromion process.
- Clavicle: The collarbone, which connects the scapula to the sternum.
There are three to talk about here.
- Glenohumeral Joint: This is the main joint of the shoulder and is formed by the articulation of the head of the humerus with the glenoid cavity of the scapula. It provides the greatest range of motion in the shoulder.
- Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint: This joint connects the acromion process of the scapula to the clavicle. It is involved in movements of the shoulder girdle.
- Sternoclavicular (SC) Joint: This joint connects the clavicle to the sternum and is also part of the shoulder girdle.
Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that provide stability to the shoulder joint.
- Glenohumeral Ligaments: These ligaments reinforce the front, back, and bottom of the glenohumeral joint, helping to stabilize it.
- Acromioclavicular (AC) Ligament: This ligament stabilizes the AC joint.
- Coracoclavicular Ligaments: These ligaments provide additional stability to the AC joint.
The shoulder joint is supported and moved by a complex network of muscles. Some key muscles involved in shoulder mobility include:
- Deltoid: The deltoid is a large muscle that covers the shoulder joint and is responsible for shoulder abduction, flexion, and extension.
- Rotator Cuff Muscles: These muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. They work together to stabilize the shoulder joint and assist with rotation and abduction.
- Trapezius: The trapezius muscle is located on the upper back and helps with scapular movements and shoulder elevation.
- Latissimus Dorsi: The latissimus dorsi is a large back muscle that assists in shoulder adduction, extension, and internal rotation.
- Pectoralis Major: The pectoralis major is a chest muscle that aids in shoulder flexion, adduction, and internal rotation.
- Biceps Brachii: The long head of the biceps brachii crosses the shoulder joint and assists with shoulder flexion and arm supination.
It’s important to note that there are many more muscles involved in shoulder movement and stability. These muscles work together in a coordinated manner to allow for the wide range of motions and mobility seen in the joint.
8 Causes of Poor Shoulder Flexibility and Range of Motion
Several factors that can contribute to poor shoulder mobility. Here are some common causes:
1. Muscular Imbalances
Imbalances in the muscles surrounding the joint can lead to limited mobility. For example, if certain muscles are tight or overactive while others are weak or underactive, it can affect the normal movement patterns of the shoulder.
2. Postural Issues
Poor posture, such as rounded shoulders or forward head posture, can result in tightness and stiffness in the muscles of the chest, upper back, and neck. This can restrict shoulder mobility and lead to imbalances in the joint.
3. Lack of Flexibility
Insufficient flexibility in the muscles and connective tissues around the shoulder joint, including the rotator cuff muscles, pectoral muscles, and upper back muscles, can limit the range of motion.
4. Joint or Soft Tissue Restrictions
Structural issues within the shoulder joint, such as joint capsule tightness or scar tissue, as well as restrictions in the surrounding soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, and fascia), can impede normal shoulder mobility.
5. Previous Injuries or Surgeries
Past shoulder injuries or surgeries, such as dislocations, fractures, rotator cuff tears, or labral tears, can result in scar tissue formation, joint stiffness, and reduced mobility.
6. Sedentary Lifestyle
Lack of physical activity and prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to muscle weakness, decreased joint mobility, and stiffness in the shoulder complex.
As we age, the tissues in our body, including the shoulder joint, can undergo natural degenerative changes, such as joint wear and tear, which can affect mobility.
8. Overuse or Repetitive Movements
Engaging in repetitive or excessive overhead movements, such as throwing, swimming, or weightlifting, without proper rest and recovery can lead to shoulder overuse injuries and limited mobility. We gave some tips of what to do if you encounter shoulder blade pain that you might like to check out too.
It’s important to identify the underlying cause of poor shoulder mobility in order to develop an appropriate plan for improvement.
Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional, physical therapist, or qualified exercise specialist can help determine the specific factors contributing to your limited mobility and provide personalized recommendations for addressing them.
Benefits of Improved Shoulder Mobility
Good shoulder mobility has many benefits for overall health and fitness, these include:
- Improved Performance: Loosening up tight shoulders allows for more effective and efficient movement patterns. Over time you will experience better performance output in the gym or in your day to day.
- Avoiding trauma or injury: Good shoulder health helps minimise injuries because of strong, supple muscles. If you can avoid having to spend on rehabilitation or medical intervention, why wouldn’t you?
- Increased Range of Motion: Shoulder mobility allows for a greater range of motion in the shoulder joint, which can improve overall flexibility and mobility.
- Better Posture: Good shoulder mobility can help improve posture by allowing the shoulders to sit in a more natural and relaxed position. This helps your neck, your back and arms to be comfortable.
- Increased Strength: Shoulder-specific exercises and stretches can help build strength and mobility in the shoulder muscles and joints, which can improve overall shoulder function and prevent tightness and subsequent injury.
Tips for Increasing Your Shoulder Mobility and Flexibility
Improving the mobility and flexibility of your upper body should always be considered just part of the healthy maintenance of your body. We include a lot of help about shoulder workouts in general but to help increase shoulder range of motion, try these ideas throughout your day:
Prior to shoulder mobility exercises, engage in a dynamic warm-up routine that includes arm circles, shoulder rolls, and gentle stretching to prepare the muscles for movement.
2. Posture Awareness
Maintain proper posture throughout the day, avoiding slouching or rounding of the shoulders. Good posture encourages optimal shoulder alignment and reduces unnecessary strain.
3. Stretch Regularly
Incorporate stretching exercises into your daily routine. Focus on dynamic stretches, such as arm swings and shoulder rotations, to warm up the muscles, as well as static stretches to improve flexibility. Some examples would be:
- Cross-body shoulder stretch: Stand tall and extend one arm across your chest. Use your other arm to gently pull the extended arm closer to your body. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- Overhead triceps stretch: Raise one arm overhead, bend it at the elbow, and reach behind your head. Use your other hand to gently push down on the elbow to deepen the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- Doorway stretch: Stand in a doorway with your hands on the doorframe at shoulder height. Lean forward slightly to stretch your chest and shoulders. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
4. Foam Rolling
Use a foam roller to target the muscles surrounding the shoulder, such as the upper back and chest. This can help release tension and improve mobility.
5. Gradual Progression
Start with gentle movements and gradually increase the intensity and range of motion as your shoulders become more mobile. Avoid pushing into painful ranges or forcing movements beyond your current capabilities.
This is Part 1 in the ‘Shoulder Mobility‘ series.