Understanding injuries from a full body perspective is key to providing sustainable pain relief and improved functional performance. When it comes to treating shoulder pain it's necessary to look at the function of the thoracic spine (mid back).
An easy example is pictured on the right. On the left we have normal thoracic motion and you can see how the shoulders easily get into full flexion. The picture on the right is with the thoracic spine locked into flexion (typical of someone who works at a computer all day). Notice a difference in arm positioning?
Now imagine going into a fitness class with a lot of overhead movements. Or having to work long hours with your arms over your head (painting anyone?). If you're unable to achieve full shoulder range of motion due to a lack of mid back mobility, your shoulder muscles, ligaments, tendons will eventually give out and lead to pain and injury.
Ways to Improve Thoracic Mobility
Because of the inter relatedness of the mid back and our shoulder it's important to come up with strategies to teach them to move as a unit. The following are a few of our favorite exercises to train thoracic and shoulder function.
1. Flexion/Extension - Chair Sinks
To perform: In a kneeling position with elbows on elevated surface, slowly sink body while bending elbows towards body. Should feel stretch in mid back and 'lat' muscles (outside of shoulders). Hold for 4-5 seconds, feeling stretch in mid back. Return to starting position and repeat for one minute.
2. Rotation - Child's Pose Rotations
Starting in Child's Pose, place left elbow between your knees and the right on the back of your head. Rotate to to the right in a slow and controlled manner (as far as you can). Return to the starting position and repeat. Perform on both sides.