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The Humble Shoulder

When you think about shoulders, what are you actually thinking of? What picture comes to mind?

For most of us, the shoulders are the horizontal ‘ledge’ below the neck.  When people complain of tight necks and shoulders, they often point to the layer of muscles known as the upper trapezius, a triangular area that covers the top of the neck down to the tips of the shoulders. This area presents a convenient ‘hook’ for us to hang our bags onto and yes it often becomes aggravated by excessive loading. 

This area is not actually the shoulder joint and the most common reason for tightness here is a lack of support in the (glenohumeral) shoulder joint.

Like the hip joint, the shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint comprising of the shoulder blade, and upper arm bone, humerus. This is a surprise to lots, that the arm is actually attached to the shoulder blade at the back of the rib cage, not the collar bone at the front. The outer edge of the scapula forms a shallow socket in which the head of the humerus sits. The shallowness of the socket allows for a greater degree of movement in the joint, however, this also makes it prone to dislocation and displacement.

The stability of the shoulder relies on the collaborative support of the muscles commonly known as the rotator cuff. When activated together these muscles are the ‘core’ of the shoulder joint and they draw the arm bone into the socket.  This allows the arm to move through its full range of movement without being displaced. The important message here is to recognise that just like the discussion around core stability, engaging these deeper stabilising muscles requires technique and low load.  The common mistake made, is to overload the shoulder with weight.  If these deeper muscles are not already fired up, the chances are the accessory muscles will take over, leading to overworked superficial muscles and sadly no stability in the actual joint.


There is another factor in play here too.  If you want to know how someone is feeling, look at their shoulders. 

Shoulder placement is more than just another postural adjustment.  It’s the physical manifestation of so many psychological and social factors.  The bony parts of the shoulder girdle are not secure enough in themselves to dictate form.  This means the shoulder is subject to the pull of muscles making them illustrative of daily movements and habits, feelings, and emotional states.  When someone is flat or down, their shoulders tend to roll forward, their chest folds in and their head sags forward. Our kids are glued to devices that results in the same postural position, which when repeated and repeated leads to that posture becoming their ‘norm.’ we can all picture this on someone.

On the adverse, some people walk tall, stand tall, and give off a completely different aura.  Shoulders are rolled back, chest is open, head is up looking at what’s ahead of them.  

Which are you?