| Article written on January 17th, 2016 at 4:08pm | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
The scapulae are vital when it comes to upper body function, especially at the shoulder. More often then not, people consider the shoulder only the ball and socket, and not the whole complex. Because the scapula has only one bony attachment, the clavicle, much of it’s function is determined by muscular attachments. We can observe the scapula at rest and throughout motion to determine how surrounding soft-tissue effects it. Here are some random thoughts on scapula positioning…
- There are several predictable positioning faults that are more common then others. Often, I find the scapula in a anteriorly tilted and laterally shifted position. This is easy to explain why, poor posture. From prolonged sitting, hunched shoulders, and excess use of technology, we allow shortening of the anterior (pec) muscles, while the upper back (rhomboids) lengthen. A tight pectoralis minor, which attaches to the scapula at the coracoid process, pulls the scapula anteriorly causing a tilt. Tightness in the pectoralis major will round the shoulders forward, causing the scapula to shift laterally away from the spine.
- How far should the scapula be from the spine? The scapulae normally rest approximately 2 inches from the spine. It is common to see resting positions that do not reflect this. Poor posture can cause an increased distance from the spine. While over-dominant rhomboids and downward rotators of the scapula can cause the scapula to rest more closely. Allowing for proper resting position is essential.
- A combined approach to proper re-positioning. As described above, adaptive shortening in specific muscles can cause alterations in scapula position. But, we must also look at muscular weakness as well. To adequately re-position the scapula, we can’t just stretch tight muscles but must also shorten the lengthened and weak musculature. A combined approach will unlock the faulty position and allow for proper position to be restored. Manual therapy is also advantageous in both the shortened and lengthened musculature. Constant tension, regardless of the reason, causes reduced blood flow and fibrotic changes within the tissue. Restoring quality of the tissue may need to be a focus before trying to change length.
- Over-emphasizing “shoulder blades back and down” reduces scapula upward rotation. Scapula upward rotation is an important movement which allows for adequate shoulder function when the arms are overhead. Too often, those that train clients will instruct people to “squeeze the shoulders blades back and down.” I have been guilty of this over the years, as well. This is fine when the scapula doesn’t need to upwardly rotate, as in movements under 90 degrees of flexion or abduction (it actually should upwardly rotate when the arm is elevated above 20-30 degrees). But, when we are lifting anything overhead, the shoulder blades need fluid movement to allow for optimal joint positioning. One of the main jobs of the scapula is to provide stability in the shoulder throughout it’s range of motion. Consciously locking down the scapula is NOT creating stability. Stability is a reflexive response from the nervous system to prevent unwanted joint motion. Reflexive means it happens on it own and without conscious thought. Next time you are lifting overhead, let those shoulder blades fly!
I hope you enjoyed this installment of random thoughts. Please go over to Facebook and leave me a comment on what you thought about this article and if you have any insight to share.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART