The shoulder joint has more movement capability than any other joint in the entire body. Unfortunately, millions suffer from shoulder pain or injury each year and many people lose their ability to utilize all of this range of motion early in life. Just remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it! For example, how many times have you seen someone without the ability to put their arms overhead?
To better understand all the amazingness of the shoulder, let’s take a quick look at how it works and then I’ll share some quick tips on how to assess it yourself so you can start to make positive change to decrease pain, increase gains, and limit the risk of injury.
As mentioned above, the shoulder can move more than any other joint in the human body. We use it to:
Reach for things
Push and pull
Basically - most upper body movement involves the shoulder.
It’s classified as a ball and socket joint. The ball is the end of your arm and connects to the rest of your upper body at it’s matching lego piece, the socket.
When you have a great functioning shoulder joint, you can pretty much take your arm all over the place pain-free. The key to maintaining this movement is to make sure there is always space for the ball to move around. If you think of the joint capsule (the socket), as a salad bowl and the ball is the size of a marble, then there is plenty of room in there to move around. However, if the bowl is now shrunk down to the size of a shot glass, then space is limited, which means the shoulder won’t move very well. Anyone with a bad shoulder will have limited space in that joint, which means the ball will run out of space to move…and boom…you have a dysfunctional shoulder.
WHERE'S YOUR INTERNAL ROTATION AT?
Do you have shoulder discomfort or dysfunction? The first thing to look at is internal rotation of the shoulder joint (the top of your arm rolling in toward the midline of the body). To assess your internal rotation, simply replicate the image below and slowly lower your forearm down toward the floor.
PIP’S TIP: Place your opposite hand on top of the shoulder being assessed. Don’t let the shoulder come up and forward as you internally rotate as this means your scapula is helping you compensate.
If you can’t get to at least to where I am in the photo above, then you have a ticking time bomb waiting to happen in that shoulder if you're not in pain already. Now the real fun begins when you compare it to your other shoulder. Usually there is a huge difference between the two and this is really eye opening. The non painful shoulder will almost always have more internal rotation.
If you notice a significant lack of rotation, then this means there isn’t adequate space in the joint capsule (it’s a shot glass, not a salad bowl). There’s no need to assess anything else because if you can’t rotate, then you definitely can’t flex (up to the ceiling in front of the body), extend (up to the ceiling behind body), or abduct (lifting arm out to the side toward the ceiling). Internal rotation of the shoulder is at the top of the food chain for healthy functioning shoulders.
Now if you have wonderful internal rotation, next up is looking at what the shoulder can do in the other planes of motion. By performing one of my favorite mobility exercises; the Shoulder CAR, we can start to see how the shoulder flexes, abducts and extends. Determine which part of the movement isn’t working well or feels a little sticky, and now you know what to attack. Doing Shoulder CARS, combined with other exercises will slowly start to bring up these deficiencies.
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As always, remember to Be Strong, Be Mobile!
ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified