It may surprise you to know that the shoulder is one of the most unstable joints in the body.  It is made up of three bones: the collar bone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus).  The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for the possibility of a wide range of movements. This ranges from scratching your back to throwing the perfect pitch. This is why it is important to practice shoulder alignment exercises.

However, mobility has its price.  It is important to understand that due to this mobility, the shoulder is unstable and prone to injury.  The shoulder joint is considered a “muscle dependent joint”, because it has minimal support from strong ligaments or other large bones to help absorb shock and impact.

Think of the shoulder joint like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. This is a fragile and unstable image and appropriate when understanding the shoulder’s instability. The wide range of movement capability combined with poor movement mechanics is a set up for continued shoulder injuries.  Due to the inherent instability present at the shoulder, it is important to develop correct mechanics and balanced muscular support. But with patience and detailed reeducation in movement abilities using the SAID principle, future injuries can often be avoided.  

In addition to instability, many of us carry tension in our neck and upper shoulder muscles.  Conversely, the lower muscles below the shoulder blade and other smaller stability muscles surrounding the joint remain underused and weak. This often leads to injuries such as shoulder impingement, “frozen shoulder”, or even forward head posture. 

Shoulder alignment exercises

The Lee Pilates Method focuses intensively on the muscles of stabilization, refined movement and postural realignment due to the instability of this joint.  Developing proper mechanics and muscular balance of the shoulder takes time, patience and mindful concentration.  It is vital to preserving the longevity of our shoulder movement abilities and staying out of pain.  This video tutorial  about the shoulder helps students understand the structure of the shoulder and how important it is to develop good shoulder mechanics.  

Here are three movements to feel more coordination and balance in your shoulder joint. 

Exercise 1

Lift your arm straight up to the side of your body, no higher than shoulder height. Glide your shoulder blade down towards your back ribs. You may know this movement as  Scapular Depression.   Do NOT lift your arm any higher than you can while holding your shoulder down and away from your ear.  Repeat on the other side. 

Exercise 2

Sit and hold a long pole or dowel in your hand, placing one end on the floor.  Glide your hand up the dowel or pole lifting your straight arm up to the side without lifting your shoulder or moving the dowel.  (You should feel your shoulder blade glide down your back as your arm lifts.)  Repeat on the other side.

Exercise 3:

Hold an elastic band and place one hand on your hip or under foot to create resistance in the band and lift the other straight arm up and out to the side of your body, gliding your shoulder blade down to keep your shoulder in place.  Have enough resistance in the band to challenge your alignment without straining your shoulder. Repeat on the other side.

Begin by practicing these exercises in the above order to slowly build your shoulder alignment.  Practice several times a week to build neural proficiency; that is,  connecting this correct muscle movement to your brain.  Once this is a comfortable and easy movement, progress to heavier weights in different shoulder positions.Currently having shoulder pain?  Try this shoulder drill and wrist drill a few times a day throughout the week. Be sure to read the directions thoroughly before practicing the drill.  And as is in all neural drills, stand in a tall, neutral position.  Breath calmly through your nose.  Reduce your range of movement if you experience any pain or discomfort.  If pain persists, stop. 

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