Shoulder injuries are very common in the sport of climbing.
In this article, Alistair walks us through the importance of scapula stability, common problems and tips on how to prevent shoulder injuries through exercising your scapula stabilisers.
What are the Scapula Stabilisers?
Your shoulder blades (scapula) are attached to your ribcage by several muscles.
These muscles all pull in different directions to help keep your shoulder blades stable on your rib cage while your arms move and take load; these are known as your scapula stabilisers.
Why is Scapula Stability Important?
Normal shoulder function requires coordinated movement to occur between your shoulder blades and shoulder joints.
The scapula stabilisers control the amount of movement occurring at the shoulder blades while also keeping them stable on the ribcage.
Scapulohumeral Rhythm For every degree of movement at the shoulder blade there is approximately 2 degrees of movement occurring at the shoulder joint.
Studies have demonstrated that abnormal movement patterns and imbalances in the scapula stabilisers can contribute to the development of shoulder injuries (i.e. shoulder impingement, rotator cuff strains, labral tears).
Shoulder Impingement Pain as the arm is raised above shoulder height
To appreciate this, try standing tall then slowly raise your arms above your head. Next, try this again but this time let your shoulders slump. You may notice how much more difficult (and uncomfortable) it is to raise your arms to the same height when in a slumped position.
Slumped Vs Tall Posture
Some common issues include:
Hitching. This refers to abnormal hunching of your shoulder as you start to raise your arm.
Winging. This refers to the lifting off of the inner border your scapula. This often becomes more obvious as your arm is loaded during a push up motion.
Rounded shoulders. This refers to rolling in of your shoulder blades giving you a slumped appearance. In these cases, the lower angle of your shoulder blades often becomes more prominent as you lower your arms from an overhead position.
The issues above are often due to muscle imbalances in the scapula stabilisers.
We often see weakness in the muscles, which:
Depress the shoulder blades in a downwards direction.
The fibres of the lower trapezius muscle assist with this action.
Pinch the shoulder blades together.
Prevent lifting off of the inner boarder of the shoulder blades.
The inner boarders of your shoulder blades are mainly anchored down by your serratus anterior muscle
We often see tightness in the muscles which help to:
Elevate the shoulder blades in an upwards direction.
The fibres of the upper trapezuius often become excessively tight
Pull the shoulders forward.
Exercises to Improve Scapula Stability
Your scapula stability can be improved by performing specific exercises. We have compiled a list of helpful exercises to get you started:
It is important to try and keep your shoulder blades down and back while performing these exercises.
Lat Pull Downs
Upper Trapezius Stretches
Pectoral Corner Stretch
Thoracic Extension Stretch
Please keep in mind that the information provided is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute to consulting your treating health professional.
Alistair Choie is the practice principal of MyFamily Physio in Mona Vale, NSW. He has been both a physio and climber for over 15 years. His areas of interest include musculoskeletal injuries and exercise rehabilitation. www.myfamilyphysio.com.au
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