The shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body, which also makes it the most likely to be injured. You might work them out a lot, but do you know how they work? You need to if you want to keep them healthy and mobile. Let’s talk shoulders!
When people think “shoulder,” they typically think deltoids, the muscles that attach the collar bone, shoulder blade and humorous. They are attractive muscles that make us look strong. In reality, your shoulders are so much more!
First, there’s the shoulder joint, which is less like a ball-in-socket and more like a golf ball on a tee. The ball part of the bone is much larger than the space it sits in.
Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue stabilize the joint. Sue Falzone explains that “the muscles that stabilize and support the joint are primarily the rotator cuff muscles and the scapular stabilizers (pictured below), the rhomboids, traps, and serratus” surrounding what’s commonly called the shoulder girdle (essentially, clavicle and scapula). The rotator cuff muscles give you the ability to lift your arms and reach overhead.
Part of your shoulder — scapula — requires stability while another part — glenohumeral joint — needs mobility. A balance between both modes is necessary to keep your shoulders healthy.
In 2006, approximately 7.5 million people went to the doctor’s office for a shoulder problem, including shoulder and upper arm sprains and strains. More than 4.1 million of these visits were for rotator cuff problems. The shoulder area has a lot of room for injury because it is complex with many working parts.
Generally, the shoulder suffers from two types of injury: Impingement and Instability.
Impingement is when your muscles rub up against or grind on the top of the shoulder blade (acromion). This happens when you lift your arms overhead repeatedly.
Instability happens when your shoulder muscles give up stability to over-compensate for tightness in another part of the body. For example, if your pectorals are tight, your shoulder muscles have to stretch more to give your joint mobility. With more flexibility in the shoulder muscles, you have less stability.
You need flexibility in the chest, arms, and wrists to allow your shoulders and upper back (which includes the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle) to get and stay strong. As I mentioned in this article, flexibility in the chest also helps your posture.
If you feel shoulder pain, don’t wait and work through it. Don’t ask a friend for their PT exercises when they hurt their shoulder. See a specialist. You use your shoulders so much that by waiting, you only make it worse.
Pilates and Shoulders
We work the shoulders indirectly in Pilates. Through planks, reverse planks, and occasional light weights, the shoulders gain strength. We also use our arms “from the back,” essentially using isometric exercise to build strength rather than using heavy weights.
For flexibility, we move the arm in many directions to keep it mobile. In my classes, I avoid shoulder positions that I believe are contra-indicated.
Pilates is great for people with shoulder issues because we rarely put pressure directly on the joint while we use it.
Overall, your body looks and feels balanced.
Linda Magid has taught group fitness classes for over 7 years. She is certified with AFAA and AEA, with special certifications in Pilates, TRX, and more. You can find her Pilates studio at https://pilatesforrealbodies.com. Contact her at @LindaMagidFitness on Facebook and Instagram.