Loss of overhead shoulder mobility can be subtle.¬† Often, a subtle loss of motion occurs slowly over time from our daily routines and habits.¬† Sitting at a desk for most of your day can result in changes in posture and loss of shoulder mobility.¬† Over time, the small changes in your shoulder mobility begin to accumulate.¬† Before you know it, your shoulder begins to feel a little tight.¬† ¬†You experience pain when reaching overhead.¬†¬† Things snowball from there.
You may not realize you have lost shoulder mobility until you begin or resume an exercise program.¬† Exercises which require overhead shoulder mobility include the shoulder press, push press, snatch, and pull-up.¬† These types of exercises are performed at or near end ranges of motion.¬† Your shoulder can begin to break down.¬† With more weight, repetitions, and speed the problem is magnified.
Why is Overhead Mobility Important?
Your ability to function overhead requires mobility of your shoulder joint, scapula, and thoracic spine.¬† Your scapula must freely rotate and tilt in order to reach fully overhead.¬† Exercises that target the serratus anterior and lower trapezius are helpful.¬† Also, your thoracic spine must be able to fully extend in order to achieve end range overhead positions.¬†¬† Thoracic mobility drills are helpful also.
Shoulder Mobility Exercise
Full range of motion of the glenohumeral, or shoulder, joint is needed to function overhead.¬† Restrictions can be due to the joint capsule or the soft tissue (muscles and tendons) structures surrounding the joint.¬† ¬†Joint restrictions are treated best with manual therapy.¬† Soft tissue restrictions are treated by combining soft tissue manual therapy techniques with mobility exercises.¬† The remainder of this article describes 5 shoulder mobility exercises you can do.
Supine Shoulder Flexion
When lying on your back and flexing your arms overhead, shoulder flexion is assisted by gravity.¬† To increase the stretch to your lats, position your palms up.¬† As you gain mobility move the hands closer together.¬† You can also perform the exercise lying on a bench to allow for greater range of motion overhead.¬† Be sure to keep the abs engaged and low back flat to avoid compensations.
Bench T-Spine Extension
This exercise improves thoracic spine extension.¬† It also provides a stretch to your lats and triceps.¬† Both of these muscles can restrict your overhead mobility.¬† By moving your hips back to your heels, your lumbar spine flexes.¬† This adds to the stretch in your upper back and lats.
Perform the floor slide with your hips and knees flexed.¬† This position facilitates a neutral low back position.¬† This is a great way to stretch tight pectoral muscles that contribute to rounded shoulders and limited overhead mobility.¬† Be sure to keep your back flat against the floor.
Shoulder Flexion over Foam Roll
Lying over the foam roll helps maintain proper spine position when flexing the shoulder overhead.¬† ¬†It also facilitates stretching of the pectoralis major and minor muscles.¬† Adding a resistance band to the wrists engages your rotator cuff muscles.¬† Be sure to keep the abs engaged and low back flat to avoid compensations.
This is a challenging exercise but it can be very effective for restoring the last bit of your shoulder mobility.¬† The prone position also facilitates posterior tilting of your scapula.¬† Tilting of the scapula is an important part of functioning overhead.¬† Be sure to keep your abs engaged to avoid compensations in the low back.¬†¬† As you gain mobility move your hands closer together.
Final Thoughts on Shoulder Mobility
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body. ¬†However, mobility problems are very common and can lead to pain and a lot of frustration.¬† Performing any of these 5 mobility drills can combat and reverse loss of overhead shoulder mobility.¬† Don‚Äôt expect huge improvements after a few sessions.¬† Results can be expedited by combining these exercises with manual therapy performed by your physical therapist.¬† ¬†It takes consistent and disciplined performance to achieve the best long-term results.¬† If you need more help, contact your physical therapist.¬† We want to help you move without pain.