Jessica Lawrence, D.P.T.
Did you know your posture can contribute to shoulder pain? A common shoulder condition seen in the physical therapy clinic is referred to as shoulder impingement. Often, rotator cuff tendons press on the coracoacromial arch of the shoulder, which causes pain with reaching movements, lying on the involved side and changes in the motion of the shoulder.
Although some compression of this joint is good and considered normal, these forces are causing too much contact during shoulder motions in the impinged shoulder. Common causes of impingement include:
- Repetitive overhead movement
- Compression to the shoulder with a fall or other trauma
- Poor posture
It’s important to know there are many different causes and types of impingement. Getting an evaluation to determine the cause for your symptoms is key. Essential components of managing this condition include improving the balance of strength and motion of the shoulder and changing posture.
Sources of shoulder strength
Most of us think of the rotator cuff when considering the strength of the shoulder, because the job of these smaller muscles is to give stability to the shoulder joint during movement. The larger muscles of the shoulder and back must support these smaller muscles in order to function efficiently.
Shoulder and back muscles affect the position of the spine, shoulder blades and neck. All too often, they are weaker than the muscles in the front of our body due to prolonged sitting, sedentary lifestyles, and frequent and extended use of phones and computers. This change in balance to the shoulder and the resulting effect on posture keeps the rotator cuff from working well.
Posture and shoulder motion
Why does posture matter with shoulder pain? When you are resting, it may not. Unfortunately, changes in posture also can change the way we move and use our body. Our posture can impact:
- Positioning of the shoulder blade
- How efficient the muscles of the shoulder are
- How well the muscles work together
- Space available at the shoulder for movement
- Positioning of the arm as it raises
Here’s an easy way to see how your posture changes the available motion of your shoulder. Sitting with slouched posture, raise your arm as high as you can manage. Do you feel tightness and pinching with this motion? Now, sit with your best posture and complete the same motion. Does your motion improve? Does your pain change?
How to improve posture
Basic posture changes to improve shoulder motion include rolling shoulders up and back, then letting them relax down, tucking chin down lightly, and sitting up from the hips. Sometimes standing against a wall and making contact with your hips, upper back and head can help gain this position. Keep your shoulder blades down and back to “pinch” the shoulders together lightly.
Changing posture frequently and having greater awareness of positioning are vital to changing your habits. If you’re having difficulties with proper posture, you may want to consider getting professional help to gain motion, strength and knowledge to change your habits.Jessica Lawrence, D.P.T., is a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.