We all know texting and typing is screwing up our posture. But did you also know that bad posture is one of the causes for shoulder impingement syndrome? Try this quick self-assessment to find out if it may be a problem for you and then I’ll tell you what you can do to lower your risk immediately.
T-Spine Functional Extension Assessment – Shoulder Impingement Syndrome
- Stand up with your feet directly below your hips.
- Lock out your knees, squeeze your butt tight and flex your abs hard.
- Now raise your arms directly over your shoulders with elbows locked.
Are you able to get your arms in-line or behind your ears without loosing body position? If you’re not sure, use the video camera on your phone or computer to record yourself.
If you can do this movement without any pain or jamming in the shoulder then great, thoracic extension is not a problem you have to be concerned about. But do take note, this is the position you should be in whenever you press overhead.
For those of you who either couldn’t get your arms back enough, felt jammed in the shoulders or had to relax your abs and arch your lower back, this post is for you.
Chances are a lack of extension in your thoracic spine (upper back) is the problem here. If you don’t fix it, you’re risking shoulder impingement syndrome, a torn rotator cuff and possibly even hurting your lower back by overarching with a heavy load.
Here’s what you can do about it right away:
Step 1: Thoracic Spine Mobilization
The first thing to address, is loosening up the muscles and unsticking the connective tissues in your upper back so you can move more freely into thoracic (upper back) extension.
My two favorite self-mobilizations are the Peanut Mob and the 10 Point Mob.
- Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat.
- Crunch up and place the peanut at the top of your shoulder blades, straddling your spine.
- Lie back on the peanut and reach your arms back towards the wall. If this hurts like someone is giving you a double noogie, then you’re doing it correctly.
- Reach both arms back for 1-2 seconds, then have one arm actively reach towards the same side heal while the other continues reaching for the wall behind you.
- Hold for 2 seconds and then switch arms.
- Now cross your arms on your chest , crunch up, inch worm up over the peanut by 1-2 inches and lie back again with your arms reaching back.
Each time you reposition, the peanut should be one vertebral segment lower on your back. Eventually, you’ll get down to your lumbar arch and won’t feel anything anymore. That’s where you stop.
You can make a Peanut Mob easily with two tennis balls and some athletic tape. Here’s a quick How To.
Unlike the Peanut Mob, the 10 Point Mob requires no equipment, or pain tolerance. So it is something you can easily do right now. It’s also really easy to see how quickly your range of motion improves by doing it just once.
- Grab a seat so the only rotation comes from your spine.
- Sit up tall, lace your fingers behind your head, take a deep breathe and rotate as far to the left as possible.
- Drop your left elbow, and raise the right elbow as far as possible while exhaling and hold for 2 seconds.
- Now bring your elbows back to level without untwisting.
- Inhale and rotate even farther to the left…tilt elbows, exhale, hold and repeat for a total of 5 times on the left and then 5 on the right.
Step 2: Thoracic Spine Extension Strengthening
Now that you’ve increased the range of motion in your t-spine, you’ll need to strengthen the muscles in that new range of motion in order to keep and use it in the future.
My two favorite exercises for this are Dynamic Sphinx and Cat/Cow.
I like the Sphinx because you can really isolate the upper back for a hard contraction.
- Laying on you stomach with flat legs, toes pointed, prop yourself up on your forearms.
- Flex your glutes so your hips are locked into place.
- Draw your forearms back along the ground as you pull your shoulders and shoulder blades back together, eyes look straight ahead.
- Think of the Sphinx in Egypt as you puff your chest out.
- Now relax for two seconds and repeat 5-8 times.
Contract hard as you try to increase the curve in your upper back each time.
The Cat/Cow is a great way to wrap this process up because you’ll integrate the space you just created in the t-spine with full range flexion/extension contrasts for the entire spine.
- Get on hands and knees with hands directly below shoulders and knees directly below hips.
- Keep tongue behind teeth on the roof of your mouth.
- Take a deep breathe and then, as you exhale, contract your abs and neck to arch your back.
- Try to get your forehead to your pubic bone. Hold 1-2 seconds.
- Reverse the direction, stomach drops down like a sagging old cow as you inhale deeply while trying to look straight up at the ceiling with your eyes.
- Repeat 5-8 times.
Shoulder pain sucks! And it can be frustrating as hell trying to do overhead exercises when your body just doesn’t seem to comfortably allow it and stretching doesn’t help.
Do the T-Spine Functional Extension Assessment to find out if thoracic range of motion is part of your problem.
If you do well on the assessment, try the mobilizations and exercises anyway to see how it feels and to keep your shoulders healthy.
If you didn’t do so well with the assessment, definitely do the mobs and exercises everyday before you lift. You should notice an improvement immediately. In fact, do the assessment again right away and see the difference.
If you’re still having pinching in the shoulder, I suggest you see a physical therapist for an evaluation.