Since you are reading this from your computer or phone right now, I am going to guess that you are probably not sitting/standing with perfect posture. Here is a quick 5 step guide to a simple yet effective exercise that you can hold while you read the rest of it:
1. Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears
2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, like you are trying to pinch something between them
3. Push your shoulder blades down (think the opposite movement of shrugging)
4. Nobody actually stands like this, so relax your shoulders forward about 50% toward where you would normally hold them
5. Great! Now try to hold this position for the rest of this article. If you feel any pain or discomfort, relax and gently repeat from step 1.
This action is known as setting the shoulder blades, or scapulas, and is the fundamental movement for many shoulder strengthening and rehabilitative exercises. The ability to maintain this position while moving is known as scapular stability, and it is a crucial component of a healthy shoulder.
Most people tend to sit and stand with what we call rounded shoulders or a slouched posture (picture a person slouching at their desk.) This position puts the rotator cuff muscles on stretch, which is a very poor position to function from. This greatly increases their likelihood of injury. Most of the shoulder injuries that we see in the clinic directly involve these muscles. Many people have heard the term rotator cuff, but what does it mean and why is it so important?
The rotator cuff is a group of four small shoulder muscles that each have distinct actions, but work as a unit to secure the shoulder any time we use our arm. There are 2 main structural reasons that these muscles are often injured:
- The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in the body, which means it is also one of the least stable. The stabilizers of the shoulder have to work harder than most other muscles to secure and protect the joint.
- The rotator cuff muscles are drastically outsized and overpowered by the primary movers of the shoulder like the pecs and deltoids.
Hopefully these reasons illustrate the importance of proper scapular stability during movement and the importance of proper scapular posture while sitting or standing. The more often this position is encouraged throughout your day, the more likely you are to avoid injury while placing demand on your rotator cuff muscles.
How are you holding your shoulders right now? Performing posture checks throughout your day is a great way to make this position feel natural and keep your shoulders injury free!